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Historical Papers 

Published by the Trinity 
College Historical Society 

Series XI 





Prefatory Note 4 

Letters of Sylvius — Hugh IVilliamson 5 

The Manhood Suffrage Movement in North 

Carolina — John IV. Can- 47 


Some Phases of Reconstruction in Wilmington and 

Nev^ Hanover County — Br\ant Whitlock Riiark.. 79 


The Committee on Publication wishes to express its ap- 
preciation of the courtesy of the Yale University Library for 
the loan of the American Museum for August, 1787, from 
which the "Essays of Sylvius," here reprinted, were trans- 
cribed. The other essays are by members of the Society, 
Mr. Carr being a graduate of Trinity College in the class of 
1915 and Mr. Ruark in the class of 1914. 

Beginning with the present academic year a prize of 
twenty-five dollars is offered by a friend who wishes his name 
withheld, to that member of the Historical Society, who is also 
an undergraduate student in Trinity College, for the best 
essay in the field of Southern History. 

Wm. K. Boyd, 
For the Committee on Publication. 

October 1, 1915. 



Letters of Sylvius 

Essay on the; consequences of emitting paper-money: 
on the necessity and advantages of encouraging 




— Law's schemes in France — To the freemen inhabi- 

Friends and Fellow Citizens: 

In every part of these states, the great scarcity of money 
is become a common subject of complaint. This does not seem 
to be an imaginary grievance, Hke that of hard times, of which 
men have complained in all ages of the world. The misfortune 
is general, and in many cases it is severely felt. The scarcity 
of money is so great, or the difficulty of paying debts has been 
so common, that riots and combinations have been formed in 

* Dr. Hugh Williamson, the author of the Letters of Sylvius, was born in 
Pennsylvania in 1735, and removed to North Carolina in 1777, making his resi- 
dence at lidenton. He was surgeon to the North Carolina troops in the Revolu- 
tion, a member of the legislature in 1782 and 1785, delegate to the Continental 
Congress in 1782, 1783, and 1784, one of the commissioners to the Annapolis 
Trade Convention of 1786, member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and 
of both state conventions of North Carolina which considered the ratification of 
the constitution, and also representative from North Carolina in the first and 
second Congresses of the United States. About 1793 Dr. Williamson removed to 
New York City, where he lived until his death in 1819. In 1812 appeared his 
History of North Carolina (2 vols., Philadelphia), an introductory volume. Obser- 
vations on the Climate of America, having been published in 1811 (New York). 

The Letters of Sylvius appeared serially in the American Museum, August 
number, 1787. They were also issued in pamphlet form, a copy from Williamson's 
library being in possession of the New York Historical Society. Published anony- 
mously shortly before the adjournment of the constitutional convention, the Letters 
show the evils of paper money, advocate an excise rather than land and poll taxes, 
and favor the promotion of domestic manufactures. They also give an interesting 
account of commercial and economic conditions in the United States, with con- 
siderable information respecting life in North Carolina. Although a valuable 
source for conditions during the age in which they were written, the Letters are 
very rarely referred to in histories and monographs relating to the period of the 
Confederation. Hence the present reprint. — Wm. K. Boyd. 


many places, and the operations of civil government have been 
suspended. This is the more remarkable, because three years 
have not passed since money was very plenty. A calamity of 
such magnitude has deservedly drawn the attention of every 
legislature in the union. In some of the states, paper-money 
has been emitted, as the best or the most convenient remedy by 
which the sufferings of the people can be relieved. The Gen- 
eral Assembly of this state (North Carolina) has already had 
recourse to two emissions of paper. Certainly, when any arti- 
cle is scarce, the general remedy is, to make more: and if it 
shall be found, when money is scarce, that private and public 
debts can be honestly discharged by a new emission of paper, 
the expedient is admirable, for it is the most easy process by 
which debts were ever paid: this, however, is a subject on 
which many doubts have arisen. It is not questioned whether 
there are means by which we may be enabled to discharge our 
debts, and become opulent and powerful : but there are many 
who believe that our debts cannot be fairly discharged, nor our 
citizens relieved, much less can they become rich, by the manu- 
facture of paper money. It has also been my lot to entertain 
some doubts whether the best regulations have hitherto been 
adopted, for preserving justice, for relieving the oppressed, 
and for securing the prosperity of the state. These doubts 
have given rise to the present address. 

This is a question, my fellow citizens, that claims your 
utmost attention: for no subject of equal importance has been 
presented to your view, since the declaration of independence. 
We are going to consider whether the administration of gov- 
ernment, in these infant states, is to be a system of patchwork, 
and a series of expedients — whether a youthful empire is to 
be supported, like the walls of a tottering ancient palace, by 
shores and temporary props, or by measures which may prove 
effectual and lasting — measures which may improve by use, 
and strengthen by age. We are going to consider whether we 
shall deserve to be a branch of the most poor, dishonest, and 
contemptible, or of the most flourishing, independent, and 
happy nation on the face of the earth. 

The reader is not interested in knowing who the writer of 
these letters may be. A bad argument is not mended by the 

Letters of Sylvius 7 

supposed abilities of its author : and a good argument does not 
require parental support. In the meanwhile, he counts it his 
duty to declare, and he does it with humble gratitude, that his 
complaints are not occasioned by personal misfortunes ; but he 
finds himself a member of a great family; he interests himself 
as a brother in the happiness of his fellow-citizens; and he 
suffers when they are grieved. 

The more I consider the progress of credit, and the in- 
crease of wealth in foreign nations, the more fully am I con- 
vinced that paper money must prove hurtful to this country; 
that we cannot be relieved from our debts except by promoting 
domestic manufactures; and that, during the prevailing scar- 
city of money, the burdens of the poor may be relieved by alter- 
ing the mode of taxation. Here are three separate and distinct 
propositions ; they shall be considered apart, in order that each 
of them may fall or stand by its own weakness or strength. 

In public measures, as in the conduct of private life, it will 
be constantly found that "honesty is the best policy." This 
maxim is somewhat old : but it is not become useless. A paper 
currency which is a legal tender, even when it may be depre- 
ciated 20 or 30 percent is not generally considered as an honest 
tender: and there are many reasons for believing that such a 
currency will not finally prove useful to the states. I say it 
has not generally been considered an honest tender. There 
are many people who say the money ought not to have depre- 
ciated. They say that necessity justified the manufacture ; and 
that we are bound to receive such payment as the law pre- 
scribes : but I never have heard any man say, that it would be 
perfect justice to pass a law, by which every creditor should be 
compelled to receive three-fourths or two-thirds of his debt, 
instead of the whole debt, and yet such a law would be per- 
fectly similar to the tender of depreciated paper, except that it 
would be a proof of more frugality and plain dealing: for it 
would be calling things by the right name, and it would save 
the expense of paper-coinage. 

However convenient depreciated paper may appear to those, 
who use it in the discharge of debts, we have already dis- 
covered that the credit and finances of these states are injured 
by paper-currency: and we shall certainly continue to suffer. 

8 Historical Papers 

unless we can be relieved from it. There has ever been found 
much difficulty in shaking off the prejudices of education. We 
have been accustomed to the use of paper-money while we con- 
tinued a dependent province. Such a currency was properly 
calculated to prevent the growth of manufactures, and to con- 
tinue our dependence and poverty. Surely, under a change of 
circumstances, there should be a change of measures. We 
ought now to consult our own prosperity, and not the emolu- 
ment of Great Britain, or any other kingdom. If we are will- 
ing to take a lesson from other governments, we shall find that 
money is not to be made out of paper, for there is not an em- 
pire, kingdom, or state under the sun, where debts may be leg- 
ally discharged by paper money, except in some of the United 
States of America. It is admitted that a paper medium, under 
the form of bank-notes or government-securities, is circulated 
in France, England, and most other commercial countries : but 
nobody is compelled by law to receive the payment of any debt 
in such money : hence it is, that the paper of those countries 
bears no resemblance to ours, except in name. Every man re- 
ceives a bank-note or refuses it at pleasure. When he receives 
it, he knows that on the next hour he may have it changed for 
gold or silver, as the bank is obliged to make such payments on 
demand. For this reason, bank-notes, being portable, are fre- 
quently preferred to coin of the weighty metals. But it never 
was found that bank-notes could be circulated at par, unless 
when it was believed that they might be exchanged for solid 
money: nor could they be circulated, if they were declared to 
be a legal tender. The reason is obvious — the whole value of 
paper is imaginary, and men do not believe by compulsion. 
Every attempt to force a man to believe that paper is equal in 
value to silver implies a consciousness that it is not equal. It 
injures what it was intended to serve. Though the paper- 
money which has been emitted in North Carolina in the year 
1783, had depreciated 20 per cent arguments were invented in 
the last year for making more money. It was alleged that 
under the regal government a greater sum of money had been 
circulated without much depreciation, and consequently a sec- 
ond coinage might take place; it would not depreciate. This 
argument was plausible, but not solid : for the value of paper 

Letters of Sylvius 9 

is never found to depend on the quantity in circulation, but on 
the security that appears for its redemption. The Bank of 
England, which belongs to a company of private subjects, cir- 
culates notes to the amount of thirty-two millions of dollars, 
though it is not believed that they have above fourteen mil- 
lions in specie at any time on hands ; but every man can get 
money for his note when he demands it. In the year 1716, 
soon after the death of Louis XIV, the celebrated John Law, 
in company with some other gentlemen, obtained a patent for 
a banking house at Paris. They issued notes, in which they 
promised to pay the bearer, on sight, a certain sum, in gold and 
silver of the weight and fineness then established by law. As 
the late king had altered the weight or quality of the current 
coin ten times during his reign, and the same thing might be 
done again, Law's notes, which were not so subject to depre- 
ciation, were preferred to specie at one per cent. Such were 
the eftects of a general confidence in good payment. Within 
the space of four years, notes were issued by Law and Com- 
pany to the amount of two hundred and twenty-five millions of 
dollars, which was twice as much as all the specie in France ; 
but the notes retained their credit, because the company were 
thought to be honest and able to pay. On the twenty-first of 
May, 1721, the Duke of Orleans, Regent of France, issued a 
proclamation, by which he reduced the value of bank-notes to 
half the nominal sum. They were depreciated fifty per cent. 
This was a proof of the want of integrity, and it operated ac- 
cordingly; it destroyed public confidence. It did not merely 
diminish the value of the notes — it annihilated them; and on 
the twenty-second of May, one guinea in gold could not have 
been purchased in Paris for one thousand guineas in notes. 
The history of paper-money, in all ages, is uniform. Its value 
depends on the confidence of the public. Let government give 
a single proof that they ought not to be trusted — confidence 
vanishes, and "like the baseless fabric of a vision, leaves not a 
trace behind." Let us compare this with the history of the 
paper in some of our states, and consider whether it ought 
to have retained its value. The first emission of the state of 
North Carolina, in 1783, was to have been redeemed by the 
sale of forfeited estates. That foundation was soon removed : 

10 Historical Papers 

and those estates were converted to another use. The money 
depreciated and recource was had to another coinage. This 
second structure was raised, if possible, on a worse foundation, 
for it had not even the appearance of stabihty. Taxes are paid 
for calHng in the money, and it is immediately restored to cir- 
culation. Was it expected that such money should pass as 
gold or silver? No, certainly. The legislature themselves do 
not seem to have expected that it should be considered of equal 
value. Tobacco, a staple of North Carolina, has been purchas- 
ed by the public for two prices in this new money : and credi- 
tors at the same time are compelled to receive it as specie, in 
the payment of debts. Is this justice? Strangers will call it 
by a different name. 

I have attempted to shew, according to the fate of paper in 
other countries, that it was not to have been expected, that our 
money should pass as gold or silver. Everybody knows, that 
it is more or less depreciated in all the states which have 
emitted it. It is therefore not a good payment, though it be a 
legal one. I shall now endeavor to show that it must finally 
prove hurtful to the states, and that it could not have brought 
us substantial relief, though the whole of it had passed as 


On paper money — consequences of debasing the coin 

OF A nation — imports OF PENNSYLVANIA — DITTO AND 

EXPORTS OF North Carolina — causes of the scarcity 
OF money — ruinous effects of importing such im- 
mense quantities of luxuries as are introduced into 
America — injustice of trade laws. 

Friends and Fellozv Citizens : 

It is painful in all cases to animadvert on public measures, 
lest we should hurt the feelings of any citizen with whom such 
measures have originated. But truth is the friend of every 
man: and the author of every public measure, if he be a good 
man, treats it as other men do : he supports it while he believes 
it to be good ; he forsakes it whenever he finds it to be hurtful. 

Letters of Sylvius 11 

For this reason I shall proceed freely in considering the effects 
of paper-money. I have said, that paper-money, which is a 
legal tender, must prove hurtful to this country ; when made, it 
must depreciate, and the effects of depreciation are unfriendly 
to industry, injurious to the poor and destructive of good 
morals. On the supposition that the paper currency in some of 
the states has depreciated one-third, it will follow, that the 
different citizens to whom this money was first paid, in its 
depreciated state, must have lost 33 1-3 per cent on every 
payment : but as every bill of paper may have passed frequent- 
ly from hand to hand, it will follow, that the several citizens of 
that state may have suffered the loss of ten times that sum by 
receiving bad money, instead of solid coin, to which they were 
entitled. This must have been a very considerable tax : and un- 
fortunately it was a tax of the most pernicious kind : for it was 
a tax on the frugal and temperate in favour of the idle, the 
profligate, and luxurious. It cannot be right in government 
to protect and encourage vice. It is a plant that thrives suffi- 
ciently in every soil, without the help of legislative authority. 
In support of a measure that agrees so little with the common 
ideas of justice, we have been told, that money was wanted for 
the sake of the poor, that they might have a medium wherewith 
to pay their debts and taxes. Whoever has reflected on the cir- 
culation of paper-money, will be apt to say, that the honest poor 
man has not been the chief gainer by it. There is some diffi- 
culty in discovering how the poor man should be profitted by a 
coinage of money. If he had been possessed of marketable prop- 
erty, before the money was made, he might have sold it for the 
full value : for there has been no season in which produce has 
not sold for more than its worth. The exporters have been 
losers. If the poor man had no property for sale, neither 
could he have got any of the new money, unless it was to have 
been given away. There is doubtless some obscurity in this 
business, unless we allege, that depreciation was intended, and 
this we are not willing to suspect. Let us suppose that the poor 
man may have gained a trifle by the depreciation of money; 
what is such a gain when compared with his sufferings by the 
loss of credit? No man can expect to borrow money, nor ob- 
tain goods on credit, when government does not support the 

12 HisTOKiCAL Papers 

creditors against dishonest payments by base money. When 
the rich are taught by government not to give credit, the suffer- 
ings of the poor must be increased : and when credit is de- 
stroyed, industry must languish : for they are constantly found 
to flourish in proportion to the honesty of government, and the 
stability of the legal money. So lately as in the 43d year of 
Queen Elizabeth, the coin of England was debased almost nine 
per cent by Parliament, and about that time the coin of France 
was frequently altered. The commerce of those nations suffer- 
ed greatly by such instability. They have since profited by 
their good faith. There is no country in which the value of 
money has been so perfectly stable, as in Holland, for the last 
two hundred years ; and it is admitted, that no country has 
prospered so much by commerce, nor is there any in which 
the interest on money is so moderate. Security of property has 
ever proved the spur to industry ; hence we find that arts and 
commerce have flourished most in republican governments ; for 
in absolute monarchies, the value of money is not stable, and in 
despotic governments the case is worse : in such governments 
we seldom find much industry. In republican governments, 
the property of the citizens has generally been safe. To this 
we ascribe the progress of arts and commerce, and the conse- 
quent wealth of Athens, Carthage, and Venice; of the Hans 
Towns and the United Netherlands. In those republics, the 
governments have not been used to depreciate their coin. Time 
will show how the experiment succeeds with us. The chief 
advantage that appears to have arisen from depreciated money, 
is, that fraudulent debtors have been enabled to discharge 
their contracts on easy terms. It is admitted that the debts 
of citizen to citizen may be somewhat lessened by this species 
of payment : but the foreign debt is not diminished by such 
means ; on the contrary, while we are using those desperate 
remedies against one another, our foreign debts have been in- 
creasing every year. 

Most of our debts have been contracted since the 
spring of 1783. If our imports could be compared with 
our exports, the balance against us would be the amount 
of our debts ; but it is difficult to determine what has been 
the amount of foreign goods imported into these states since 

Letters of Sylvius 13 

the peace. Our public accounts cast but a faint light on this 
question. Generally speaking, without a boat or searcher in 
any of our ports, — the strictest attention not being paid to the 
revenue — people are invited to smuggle goods ; detection is not 
apprehended ; and time has nearly established the contempt of 
custom-house oaths. The amount of goods imported into 
Pennsylvania, since the peace, and consumed there appears to 
exceed two millions of dollars a year. In fixing its quota of 
the national debt, we find, that in the year 1783, Pennsylvania 
was supposed to contain 320,000 inhabitants, and North Caro- 
lina to contain 170,000, which is more by 10,000 than half the 
number contained in the former state. It is true, that negroes 
were taken into the estimation : but three negroes were reckon- 
ed as two whites. According to this estimation, we should 
suppose that the consumption of foreign goods in the State of 
North Carolina has been equal to more than one million of 
dollars every year. It may be objected, that winter is more 
severe in Pennsylvania than in North Carolina, and that three 
negroes do not consume the same value of clothes as two 
whites. This objection is more than balanced by observing, 
that nearly two-thirds of the citizens of Pennsylvania have 
originated in Germany, or the north of Ireland ; and have im- 
ported such habits of industry and dexterity in the mechanic 
arts, that they make little use of foreign manufacturers. Di- 
vide one million of dollars by 170,000, and it does not give 
quite six dollars for each person. Part of the inhabitants, 
suppose one-fourth of them, being slaves, and three slaves be- 
ing counted as two whites, there will not be four dollars for 
each slave. We admit, that the annual consumption of many 
slaves, in foreign goods, is below four dollars, even when rum 
is included : and some white inhabitants do not consume to 
the amount of six dollars : but there are many who consume 
ten times that quantity. This computation was made on the 
supposition that no goods have been smuggled into Pennsyl- 
vania : but some of the citizens of that state have also calcu- 
lated, that the account of perjury, like the tenor of their re- 
spective wills, is not to be examined till after death. They 
have conducted themselves accordingly. This inference is 
founded on a late association of merchants in Philadelphia to 

li HiSTORiCAT. Papers 

prevent smuggling. We may fairly add 200,000 dollars for 
this account. 

We shall now consider what have been the annual ex- 
ports of North Carolina, in order to determine the amount of 
debts contracted since the peace. The produce exported from 
Currituck, Edenton, Bath, Newbern and Wilmington, in the 
last year seems to be valued not too high, when stated at $506,- 
700.* The tobacco, rolled into Virginia, and produce conveyed 
to South Carolina may be stated at 400,000 dollars, and there 
will remain a balance of £117,320 not accounted for. Accord- 
ing to this computation, North Carolina has contracted a debt 
of 293,000 dollars every year to foreigners, or to people who 
live out of the state, to be paid to foreigners. No part of this 
debt has been discharged by the operations of paper-money, 
the whole advantage of depreciation being a mere juggle, by 
which one citizen is injured for the convenience of another. 
Their extravagance therefore, is the sole cause of this alarm- 
ing scarcity of money. They consume more than they can pay 
for ; and, until they become frugal and more industrious, the 
grievance must increase, notwithstanding their little attempts 
to elude the burden, by throwing it upon one another. If no 
debts were due in the state, except those which are due to 
merchants, or the importers and retailers of goods, they would 
long since have discovered the true cause of the scarcity of 
money ; the merchants' books would have told the amount of 
their debts : but it is an unfortunate circumstance, that a small 
share of those may be directly due to the importers of goods, 
though the whole of them are occasioned by such importations. 
In order to account for this, we are to consider, that merchants 
have a better opportunity than other people to receive payment 
of debts : for produce of all sorts will suit them instead of 

Thus it may happen, that A buys a horse from B, for which 
he is to pay eighty dollars, as soon as he shall have sold his 
crop. B purchases cattle from C, for eighty dollars, which he 
is to pay, when he receives payment for his horse: and C em- 

* In this computation, tobacco has been valued at 26s. the hundred. Pitch and 
turpentine at 10s. Tar 6s. Pipe staves 81. hhd. staves and heading 41. Corn 
15s. the barrel. The whole to be paid in specie at the port where they are shipped. 
Merchants know best whether they are worth more, considering the various bur- 
dens with which our conunerce at this time is loaded. 

Letters of Sylvius 15 

ploys D to repair his house, for which he is to pay him out of 
the price of his cattle. In the meanwhile, A. tempted by the 
allurements of a neighboring store, buys foreign goods, silks, 
gauzes, rum, and such other necessaries, for the use of his 
family, and he delivers the whole of his crop in payment, for 
which he is allowed a generous price. Thence it must follow, 
that B, C. D, and every other letter in the alphabet, are dis- 
appointed, each of them is in debt, and they all complain of the 
scarcity of money, without perceiving that all these debts con- 
tinue to be unpaid, from the folly of A in buying foreign goods, 
and yet the goods are paid for. Thus it is, that our citizens are 
universally involved : many of the debts are due to merchants ; 
but a much greater amount is due to people who are not mer- 
chants : and we seem not to have discovered, that we are nearly, 
ruined by foreign luxuries. Let any man cast his eye on this 
account : let him think of a state whose citizens are given up to 
indolence and vanity — who, in the space of three years, have 
plunged themselves in debt at least three hundred thousand 
pounds : let him observe how the property of our citizens is 
daily mortgaged to strangers and foreigners, and the inheri- 
tance of our children bartered away for fineries and fopperies : 
let him observe the desperate situation to which we are re- 
duced, merely to obtain a transient release. The dignity of 
government is w^ounded — base money is declared to be a legal 
tender — the diligent man is plundered for the benefit of the 
indolent and extravagant — industry languishes, for property is 
not safe — the orphan is defrauded* — and the most atrocious 
frauds are practiced under the sanction of the law. Surely, it 
is high time that other measures were adopted. 


* Some months ago, a young adventurer, in North Carolina, married a widow 
who had three children. She chanced to have three thousand hard dollars in the 
house, of which two-thirds belonged to the children. The guardians claimed their 
share of the specie for the children: and the honest step-father is now buying up 
paper at twelve or thirteen shillings for the dollar; and such money will be a legal 
payment for the use of the orphans. Is it strange that paper depreciates, when 
such men are profited by the depreciation! 

16 Historical Papers 


On frugality and industry — in old nations, it is wise 
and politic to encourage luxury in dress — this con- 
duct eolly and madness in america — expenses of the 
POOR IN England and France — fallacy of the idea 


American, as the former are cheaper. 

To the Freemen Inhabitants of the United States — Friends 
and Fellow Citizens: 

In all cases, it is more easy to complain, than to point out 
the means of relief. It is also more easy to give wholesome 
advice, than to adopt proper remedies. It is a downward, easy 
path that leads to ruin : but it is a rough and uphill road, which 
leads to prosperity. Every amendment is at first unpalatable. 
For this reason, I shall recommend with indifference, what is 
likely to be followed with reluctance. 

We complain in general, that money is scarce. We are mis- 
taken about facts : for the thing alleged is not altogether true. 
Pride, or the force of habit, prevents us from discovering the 
truth. There is no country in which money may be acquired 
with more ease than in America : and every man has it, who 
has any right to expect it, except in cases where government 
interferes. But most of us ought not to have any money : we 
have not deserved it : for we have expended more money since 
the peace, than we have gained : whence it is, that we neither 
have money, nor any kind of marketable property, by which we 
can pay our debts : no man or body of men can have either, 
whose expenses exceed their income. There is a certain and 
plain process by which our complaints may be relieved : — the 
bad effects of indolence and luxury must be cured by dili- 
gence and economy: and the whole of our debts may be dis- 
charged in a few years by industry and frugality. When are 
we likely to obtain money by such means? No man can at- 
tend to the prevailing conduct of the Americans, without ex- 
pressing his fear that the period is very distant. Instead of 
finding general proofs of industry, economy, temperance, and 
other republican virtues, he sees a nation that is more luxuri- 
ous, more indolent, and more extravagant, than any other peo- 

Letters of Sylvius lY 

pie on the face of the earth. In drawing this figure, I may be 
charged with high colouring: but the reader is requested to 
examine the original, and if he finds us the most luxurious and 
improvident of all nations, he will certainly admit that some 
restraints might help to increase the quantity of money among 
us, or might prevent the occasion for it. 

Every empire under the sun is supposed to be indepen- 
dent of any other : that is to say, the subjects of every empire 
are supposed to enjoy a natural as well as a political indepen- 
dence. It is presumed that they clothe and feed themselves. 
This, in former times, was obviously the case in all countries : 
but the introduction of commerce has produced many seeming 
variations from this rule. Industrious nations, which have 
more provisions or clothing, of any particular quality, than are 
necessary for their own consumption, send them abroad to be 
exchanged for money, or for some other kind of clothing or 
provisions which they like better, or which they cannot prepare 
with the same ease: but still their exports and their imports 
are nearly equal, and the quantity of imported goods consumed 
by every nation, bears a very small proportion to which they 
consume of their own manufature. This is true even of the 
Spaniards, though national pride or indolence seems to furnish 
them as an exception to this general rule. They depend on 
other nations for many important manufactures. The conse- 
quence is obvious. Though they possess the rich mines of Mex- 
ico and Peru, they are, by neglecting useful manufactures, be- 
come a poor nation ; and are every year decreasing in numbers 
and strength. 

We observe that most other nations maintain a kind of 
barter or exchange of manufactures with one another: but 
still the great body of the inhabitants, rich and poor, are 
clothed in the manufactures of their own country. Is this 
the case in the United States? With us the master and his 
slave, the farmer, the mechanic, and merchant, are all clothed, 
from head to foot, in foreign manufactures : this is not be- 
cause we have not got hemp, flax, and cotton sufficient : there 
is no country where those articles are produced with less 
trouble ; nor is there any difficulty in procuring wool. But our 
imports are not confined to clothing. No small share of our 

18 Historical Papees 

furniture is of British manufacture. Saws, hammers, hoes, 
and axes, are also imported, as if the wolf had made war 
against our iron as well as against our sheep. In every small 
town we are cherished with Irish butter and beef, and with 
British ale, porter, and cheese, as if the country did not pro- 
duce hops, barley, or black cattle. Lest absurdity should not 
go on stilts, and folly ride the great horse, we make large im- 
portations of hazle and oak sprouts, under the name of walk- 
ing canes. Surely there is no scarcity of wood among us : but 
our sticks are not foreign. In excuse for all those follies, we 
are told, that a man has the right to all the comforts of life 
which he can pay for : and perhaps it may be cjuestioned, 
whether he has a right to give examples, and introduce follies, 
that may prove ruinous to his fellow citizens. Under the head 
of luxuries, we may fairly include every imported article, be- 
cause this country certainly produces all the necessaries of life. 
It is hardly requisite to visit a large town in order to determine 
whether the luxury of dress is become an offense against de- 
cency, as well as a sure road to bankruptcy. In this remark, 
no particular reference is made to the dress of either sex : for 
they are equally attentive to the privilege of being in fashion. 
It is true, that some doubts have arisen concerning the mean- 
ing of the word fashion. In most countries, fashion in dress 
is understood to mean the form and quality of clothing, which 
is used by the most respectable inhabitants, or by the great 
majority of the nation. From late observations, we are taught 
to suspect that the word has a different meaning in the United 
States. Among us, a person is understood to be in perfect 
fashion who is rigged off with something that has not been seen 
or heard of before in the state. On this principle it is, that we 
have seen new forms of head-dress, like bullets in a pop-gun, 
kick out one another so fast that we could hardly learn their 
names as they passed in review. Perhaps we shall be told, that 
an American is not in fashion, who dresses like other Ameri- 
cans : he must dress as people do in London. If they change 
their clothes once in a month, so must we. If they wear but- 
tons of the size of a saucer, in the form of a hexagon, or a 
square, so must we. What a pity it is, that fashions should 
wear out in London, before they can arrive at New York or 

Letters of Sylvius 19 

Phiadelphia. If there was a glass in the moon, we might catch 
the fashions as they rise. How does it fare with nations who 
have no change in the fashion of their clothes? Have the wo- 
men in those countries fewer charms, or have the men less 
discretion, than we have, who are subject to weekly revolu- 
tions? Surely, the whim of this day has no more intrinsic 
beauty than the whim of yesterday. 

In old nations, where manufactures flourish, and where 
wealth is unequally distributed, some of the inhabitants being 
exceedingly rich, and the great body of them miserably poor, 
it is wise in the government to encourage luxury and caprice in 
dress. By those means, the wealth of the rich circulates 
through the hands of the manufacturing poor. But our situa- 
tion being entirely the reverse of theirs, what is sound policy in 
those countries, must be folly and madness among us. When 
we encourage luxury, it is to enrich another nation, and to 
make our own citizens poor. Can there be a greater treason 
committed against the states ? The Chinese and Japanese, 
great, politic, and wise, nations are distinguished by a national 
dress. The Dutch, though they are surrounded by nations who 
are as changeable as the moon, have submitted to little varia- 
tion in dress for two hundred years. Their commerce does 
not, like that of France and England, depend on their manu- 
factures : and nothing less than rigid economy could make 
them respectable. Nothing but necessity can justify us in the 
use of any foreign manufacture. Doubtless, the word neces- 
sity is very ambiguous. Most people contend that what they 
buy is necessary, provided they can barely discover the use of 
it. We have the daughter of a labouring mechanic pay her 
afternoon's visit, dressed out in more lace, ribands, gauze, and 
silk, than her father could have earned in twelve months in any 
part of Europe. Were those things necessary ? We have seen 
a young buck, the son of a planter, who scarcely sold one hogs- 
head of tobacco in the year, on his way to quarter-races fitted 
out for the sake of propriety, with white silk stockings under 
his boots, a pair of Durable black silk breeches, and more 
silver on his saddle and bridle, than the value of his father's 
estate, if his debts were paid. These were a few of his neces- 
saries. It is very observable, that in other countries, people 

20 Historical Papers 

who live by their industry, and are obliged to pay their debts, 
do not find such things necessary. It is alleged that in Eng- 
land, the food, raiment, and other necessaries of a labouring 
man, cost him annually about 7.10s. sterling: deduct a moder- 
ate allowance for food, fuel, and house-rent, how much will 
remain for clothes? The Marshal de Vauban, considering 
what taxes may be paid by a labouring man in France, esti- 
mates his annual expense in clothing at somewhat less than 
forty shillings of our money : This includes the clothing for 
himself, his wife and two children. It may be noted, that half 
the subjects, both in France and in England, come within the 
foregoing predicament : they are either mechanics or day- 
labourers. Compare their expense with ours, in the article of 
dress; and it must be admitted that an epidemic madness has 
laid hold of us. 

It is alleged, that the citizens of the United States have 
contracted debts, within the last three years, with the subjects 
of Great Britain, to the amount of near six millions of dollars ; 
consequently, our estates are mortgaged for that sum. Painful 
sensations must arise to every man who loves his country, 
from the prospect of such beginnings. Thus it was, that Cor- 
sica was mortgaged to the more industrious citizens of Genoa, 
for silks and velvets : and it was afterwards sold to a foreign 

We shall be told, in excuse for imported luxuries, that we 
buy goods cheaper than we can make them ; and that a map 
earns more in his tobacco or corn-field, than he could earn at a 
loom, or by other manufactures. These positions are fallacious 
r.nd ill-founded. Both experiment and calculation prove them 
to be false. During the late war goods were dear, and we did 
not run into debt : for we bought few — manufactured some — 
and were frugal. Since the peace, goods have been cheap, and 
we have nearly become bankrupts. It appears that our earn- 
ings in the field have not been equal to the price of the goods 
that we have consumed. Every domestic manufacture is cheap- 
er than a foreign one, for this plain reason : by the first noth- 
ing is lost to the country, by the other the whole value is lost ; 
it is carried away never to return. It is perfectly indifferent 
to this state, or to the United States, what may be the price of 

Letters of Sylvius 21 

domestic manufactures, beause that price remains in the coun- 
try. Every man is supposed to be employed in some profession 
— he is a mechanic, etc., or he is employed in raising provisions 
for those who are. In Great Britain, the farmers are to the 
manufacturers as four to three. In this state (North Caro- 
lina), where provisions are more easily raised, the number 
may be equal, because the labor of one man in the field is 
more than sufficient for the nourishment of two. Let the 
manufacturer demand what he pleases for the produce of his 
labor, the farmer can easily settle the account by selling his 
provisions accordingly. The annual consumption of goods in 
this state has been estimated at a million, or rather a million 
two hundred thousand dollars in specie, or produce to that val- 
ue, have been sent out of the state, and we are so much the 
poorer. Suppose the whole of those goods had been manu- 
factured wuthin the state, or a sufficient quantity for our con- 
sumption, and that they had cost the consumers, or been valued 
at two millions of dollars ; would the citizens of this state have 
lost eight hundred thousand dollars by this difference in price? 
The very reverse would have happened. They would have 
gained, or they would have saved, one million two hundred 
thousand dollars : for not a single dollar would have been sent 
out of the country. 

No man is to say that a thing may be good for individuals, 
which is not good for the public ; or that our citizens may thrive 
by cheap bargains, while the nation is ruined by them. He is 
neither a politician, nor a patriot, who would use such a cloak. 
Let us turn our attention to manufactures : and the staple of 
cur country will soon rise to its proper value : for we have 
already glutted every foreign market. By this expedient, 
instead of using fictitious paper, we shall soon obtain hard 
money sufficient ; instead of toiling in the field, and becoming 
poor, that we may enrich the manufactures of other countries, 
we shall prosper by our own labor, and enrich our own citizens. 


22 HiSTOKiCAL Papers 


Further remarks on tender laws — necessity of encour- 
aging American manufactures — advantages of a 
national dress — absurdity of servilely copying the 
FASHION OF Europe — New England well calculated 

MENT OF Great Britain_, by consuming her manufac- 

To the Freemen Inhabitants of the United States — Friends 
and Fellow Citizens: 

It has ever been found, that speculative reasonings are weak 
and inconclusive, when opposed to the prejudices or passions 
of a nation. There is something so bewitching in luxury and 
idleness, that nothing short of hard necessity can banish them ; 
perhaps this great reformer is not far distant. When a man 
sees his fellow-citizens posting at full speed to destruction — 
when he sees them attempt to mortgage their whole estate for 
a whistle and bells, and the legislatures of some of the states 
holding a candle to the prevailing folly, by cherishing the idle 
at the expense of the industrious — he comforts himself that 
the race is nearly run. It was not sufficient that the whole pro- 
duce of our country during the last three years has been ex- 
changed for luxuries — all the hard money that could be collect- 
ed was also exported; but there was still a remnant of hard 
money in many of the states — the people retained it for the 
necessary purposes of exchange, and merchants could not get 
it out of their hands. In order to banish this remnant of hard 
money, our legislatures are following one another in making a 
paper tender. By this happy expedient, people will be enabled 
to ruin themselves; every farthing of specie, which seems to be 
obnoxious, will be exported, and we shall be as poor and penni- 
less as Tartars. 

When our merchants are involved in a general bank- 
ruptcy, and when the officious friendship of foreign merchants 
is sufficiently punished, who tempted us to run in debt, there 
will be an end to the importation of foreign goods, and neces- 
sity will effect what prudence could not. 

Letteks of Sylvius 23 

I have for some time looked for those marks of poHtical 
virtue, those proofs of self-denial, which produced the revolu- 
tion. I have expected to see associations formed by gentle- 
men in the several states, for promoting American manufac- 
tures. For as soon as we can make our own clothes, and our 
own arms, we shall be perfectly independent. Surely the man 
who is clothed in American manufactures, which he wears for 
the sake of enriching his native country, and relieving his 
fellow-citizens, may be allowed to have some claim to patriot- 
ism, which is the most honorable garb that can be worn. 

While we are considering of the various means by which 
our fellow-citizens may be relieved from a scarcity of money, 
the subject of dress claims our particular attention. Our in- 
terest and our honor are united in recommending a national 
dress. National prejudices are useful : they attach people to 
those of their own country, and induce them to assist one 
another. In most cases, a national language answers the pur- 
pose of distinction : but we have the misfortune of speaking the 
SLime language with a nation, who, of all people in Europe, have 
given and continue to give fewest proofs of love. We do not 
count it an honor to imitate the forms of government that pre- 
vail in Europe— why should we think it honourable to imitate 
the fashion of their coats? "0 imitatores, servile peciis!" 
Why should we imitate the dress of a man from London, more 
than of a man from Ispahan, Pekin, or Constantinople? 
Surely we do not mean this imitation as a mark of hom- 
age to a Briton— nor do we pay it as a tribute, though it 
renders us tributary. We do not mean to acknowledge 
that Britons are superior to ourselves in everything, 
whence we should imitate and strive to copy them. How, 
then, are we to account for this sycophantism? Though 
it was profitable, we are placed thereby in a point of 
view so humiliating, and so offensive to the common 
feelings of men, that we ought to break the fetters, and give 
another proof of our being free. But since the imitation of 
English fashions cannot cost the United States less than five 
miltions of dollars per annum— every argument for economy 
as well as pride seems to recommend a national dress. What 
would be the best form of a national dress from head to foot, 

24 Historical Papers 

a dress to be adopted and persevered in. This question may 
possibly be answered by some person who shall attempt the 
change. If a few respectable citizens in every state should 
undertake the change, beyond doubt it would soon become uni- 
versal. It is true that national dress, like their several forms 
of government, has been established in most countries by a 
long process of time and accidents : but the Americans have 
had the resolution to shake off a set of prejudices, and at once 
to establish a new system of government. Such a nation might 
easily shake off the trammels of English fashion in the hat or 
coat, especially when it is considered that great saving and 
other solid advantages would accrue from such a measure. If 
a national dress be adopted, we shall have nothing to appre- 
hend from the effects of caprice. We are not to fear lest 
every adventurer, who arrives among us with a new figaro 
on his back or head, should eclipse our dress, and claim the 
greater attention of the ladies. It will constantly be found that 
the national dress in every country, is more decent and pleasing 
to people at large, than any new adventitious or foreign dress. 
Every stranger who comes among us, will think it best to as- 
sume the dress of the country. If he affects to become a citi- 
zen, he will find it necessary. It is the privilege of a conquer- 
ing nation to impose its dress upon the conquered. This be- 
comes a mark of subjection. There has been a notable excep- 
tion to this rule. When the Tartars conquered China, the 
Chinese had the good fortune to preserve their dress, and the 
Tartars submitted to a change : hence the Tartars in that very 
empire are considered as secondaries and inferiors. Whether 
we shall submit to the perpetual rule and customs of England, 
and acknowledge ourselves subordinate, is a question that is 
not likely to be determined speedily. The present appearances 
ctre against us. I have mentioned the English, because it is 
certain that we do not copy French dress, though that also 
would be folly. 

The measures to which I have referred, would certainly re- 
lieve us from a scarcity of money: but they are rather to be 
effected by the spirit of the nation, than by legislative inter- 
position. They are rather to be effected by voluntary patriotic 
a.?sociations, than by express and particular statutes. It is im- 

Letters of Sylvius 25 

possible to foretell where any salutary measure is to have its 
beginning; but as the amendment in question will doubtless be 
produced by the combination of sundry causes, I should natur- 
ally expect that some of the eastern states would give us the 
example. Not because the citizens of those states are at this time 
distinguished by the frugality of their dress ; for we believe that 
no people in the United States have fought more greedily to 
ruin themselves, by the luxury of dress, than some- of the in- 
habitants of the eastern states. Nor is it because the tradesmen 
or mechanics in those states have any particular claim to patri- 
otism, if it be true, as has been reported, that as soon as the 
legislature of Massachusetts had imposed a heavy tax on cer- 
tain imported goods, to encourage the manufacture of similar 
articles at home, the mechanics raised the price of those very 
ctrticles by the full amount of the tax. For instance, two 
dollars being the tax that was laid on beaver hats — the hatters 
immediately added two dollars to the eight dollars they had 
formerly demanded for a beaver, as if they wished by extra- 
vagance to provoke a repeal of the law, or to promote smug- 
gling. If such reports are well founded, and if such instances 
of extortion are common among the mechanics in the eastern 
states, we are not to look for proofs of signal patriotism among 
them. The eastern states are particularly circumstanced with 
respect to foreign commerce. They produce nothing fit for 
exportation. The fishery cannot be considered as theirs ; for it 
is common : and the trifling amount of lumber and live stock, 
the produce of the country, that is exported cannot be suffi- 
cient to clothe one-tenth of the inhabitants. In the mean- 
while, it is very observable, that no people can be more con- 
veniently situated for the purpose of extending manufactures 
than the citizens of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecti- 
cut, and Rhode Island. The climate is extremely healthy, nor 
is it too warm for a white man to labor through the whole 
summer. Domestic slavery, which has ever been found un- 
friendly to manufactures, does not prevail among them. A 
great proportion of the inhabitants are contiguous to one 
another in small towns, which are the proper nurseries of 
manufactures, and most of those towns are situated on or 
near a water-carriage. The citizens are naturally industrious 

26 HisTOKiCAL Papers 

and tractable. Whatever raw materials they want, can easily 
be procured from the southern states. As the number of citi- 
zens increases in the manufacturing towns, provisions may be- 
come scarce : but the corn and rice of the southern states must 
afford them a convenient and constant supply. Vessels that 
are not employed by winter in the fishery, may be usefully en- 
gaged in carrying provisions in exchange for manufactures : 
for in such a soil and climate as the southern states, there must 
ever be a redundance of provisions. Surely, then, it may be 
expected, that the citizens of the eastern states will be among 
the first manufacturers. There we see a people who cannot 
long persevere in the course they have been running — a people 
who are persuaded by every argument of prudence and sound 
policy to adopt other measures — are we not to expect some use- 
ful, some great and patriotic examples from that quarter ! 

If other arguments are wanted to induce us to promote 
domestic manufactures, and a national dress, we had best con- 
sider the question concerning imported goods, as it effects our 
own revenue, compared with the revenue of a foreign king- 
dom. When the subject is viewed in this light, we must admit 
that our present measures are neither supported by patriotism, 
nor by any other civil or political virtue. 

The foreign goods annually consumed in this state, have 
been estimated at more than one million of dollars ; perhaps we 
may fairly state the amount of British goods at that sum ; con- 
sequently, the subjects of Great Britain are enriched by our 
follies to the amount of four hundred thousand pounds per 
annum. How much do we contribute towards the taxes of 
Great Britain by such a consumption of her manufactures ? 

This is a question that has not been fully considered : but 
I think the amount may be fairly stated at seven hundred 
thousand dollars by the year. To some Americans this com- 
putation may appear extravagant : but gentlemen who have 
seen the burdens that are borne in foreign countries will not 
think it too large. It is generally alleged that a man pays 
fifteen shillings for the use of government, out of every twenty 
shillings that he spends in England. Some have stated the 
public tax at seventeen shillings in the pound. Let us take 
an instance in the article of beer. 

Lettees of Sylvius 27 

The land pays a tax. The barley which grows on it, when 
malted, pays an excise of six-pence by the bushel. Hops pays 
one penny by the pound. The beer, when brewed, pays an 
excise, greater, in some cases, than the original value. And 
all the persons who labour in the premises, contribute to the 
national revenue, by their sundry consumptions to the amount 
of three-fourths of the whole price of their labor : this also 
must be charged on the beer. Surely, then, the consumer of 
beer pays more than seventeen shillings to government for every 
twenty shillings which he expends in that liquor. But I have 
taken fourteen shillings in the pound, as a moderate estimate 
of the sum that a man in America pays towards the support of 
government in Great Britain, who consumes British manu- 
factures. It follows of course, that we have, for the last 
three years, been paying into the British treasury a tax up- 
wards of two hundred thousand pounds per year. Strange 
liberality ! While our own taxes are neglected, our government 
degraded, and our private debts unpaid, we are freely giving 
up the last farthing for the support of a foreign government. 
The whole of our foreign debt would have been discharged by 
a smaller sum than we have already paid into the British 
treasury : but our money is gone, and every part of the foreign 
loan remains unpaid. While we are neither honest nor grate- 
ful to those who befriended us in the hour of distress, we are 
extremely beneficient to those who stand in a different pre- 
dicament. A nation that takes so much pains to injure itself, 
cannot possibly prosper. If the general use of British goods, 
in these states, could be improved so as to bring a fifth part 
of the sum into our treasury, that it brings into the treasury 
of Great Britain, our civil government would be well supported, 
our foreign loans discharged, our national honour preserved, 
and our citizens fully relieved from the burden of positive 
taxes. These are objects devoutly to be wished. 


28 Historical Papers 


On the necessity oe altering the present mode of tax- 
ation — hardships oe the land and capitation tax 



To the Freemen Inhabitants of the United States — Friends 
and Fellow Citizens: 

In all governments, the relief of the poor should be one of 
the chief objects of legislative attention. Every citizen demands 
justice and protection from government. These should not — 
they cannot be refused. But the poor man has other claims. 
JTis wants and his sufferings must be in proportion to his de- 
gree of poverty. Humanity requires that his sufferings be pre- 
vented or relieved, so far as may consist with the steady and 
impartial administration of justice. It is inconsistent with 
honesty or sound policy, that the rich should be defrauded or 
plundered, for the sake of the poor : but the fiscal and econo- 
mical laws of every state should be so framed, as to encour- 
age and assist the poor in their usual employments. The ne- 
cessary burdens of civil government should be so fashioned, as 
to press on their shoulders in the most convenient and easy 
manner that is possible. The general payment of taxes is ab- 
solutely necessary to the support of any government : but 
when money is remarkably scarce, it must be difficult for the 
poor man to pay his taxes : and in many cases, he may find it 
impossible to make the annual payments, without the public 
sale of some part of his property. Every distress of this kind 
ought to be prevented, if possible. Perhaps the most easy and 
effectual method of preventing the poor man from being dis- 
tressed in the payment of taxes, is by altering the general form 
of taxation, or by substituting an excise in the place of a tax 
on property, which is common in North Carolina. 

That tax, or additional price, which in most countries is 
laid upon certain goods, when they are sold for consumption, 
is called excise. Thus, a retailer of spirituous liquors may be 
required to pay for the support of government, one shilling for 
every gallon of wine that he sells : and the shop-keeper may be 
obliged to pay half a crown for every yard of silk or cloth he 

Letters of Sylvius 29 

sells. This tax is very different from the customs, or duties 
that are usually paid on the importation of foreign goods. It 
is a subsequent tax, and frequently much heavier. In many 
cases, it is laid on articles of domestic production. In Eng- 
land, several millions are annually raised by an excise : in 
France, the revenue from an excise is larger : and in Holland 
almost the whole of the national expenses are paid by different 
excises. Almost everything in that country, which a man eats 
or drinks, is subject to an excise: and in some cases, the excise 
is nearly equal to the prime cost. 

It has frequently been said, that when the citizens of any 
state are obliged to raise a certain sum of money by the means 
of taxation, there can be little difference by what name the 
tax is called, or how it is laid. But this opinion is ill founded. 
The capitation-tax, and land-tax, such as are usual among us, 
are inevitable and positive taxes : they are not to be averted. 
The industrious man cannot elude them: the unfortunate can- 
not escape them. Every citizen must take out his purse, and 
pay the amount. But the excise is a negative or indirect tax. 
When it is laid on foreign goods, no man is obliged to pay any 
part of it : and when it is laid on domestic luxuries, no prudent 
man will pay much of it. It will frequently happen that the 
most virtuous and industrious citizens are greatly distressed by 
domestic sickness : and it will happen, that whole countries are 
distressed by intemperate seasons and short crops. In all 
such cases, the excise operates as a relief to the citizen : for he 
buys no luxuries on that year, and consequently he pays no 
taxes, provided luxuries only are excised. 

Let us suppose a very frequent case : a poor man is possess- 
ed of one hundred acres of land, hardly worth one hundred 
dollars. His land-tax will be twenty-five, and his poll or per- 
sonal tax fifteen shillings. Does it not frequently happen, that 
the public officer, at the season for collecting taxes, finds such 
a man without forty shillings in his pocket? Perhaps he is 
seldom possessed of so much money at a time. It would cer- 
tainly be strange if the poorest man in the state, who is not a 
cripple, could not earn, in the year, three times the sum that 
has been mentioned, besides what is necessary for the support 
of his family : but economy and a provident foresight are not 

30 Historical Papers 

the characteritsics of the poor. In fact, the poor in these states 
are generally poor because they want those qualities : why, 
then, are we to suppose a man to have the thing, which we 
ought rather to suspect he has not? Or why shall we make it 
necessary for a man to treasure up money for several months, 
who never cared for tomorrow ? The land-tax or the personal 
tax may appear at first sight to be small burdens : but exper- 
ience has taught us that they are not easily borne. On the other 
hand, the most indolent or the most careless citizen cannot pos- 
sibly be incommoded by an excise. If he should have no money 
in the course of the year, nor anything to sell, he will not be 
able to buy anything, and consequently will not pay any tax. 
Whenever he shall be able to buy any foreign commodities, he 
will pay his tax in buying the goods ; for the excise is added on 
the price of them: it is paid by the merchant. Suppose the 
excise on rum to be one shilling the gallon, whoever buys one 
gallon of rum, must pay a tax of one shilling: for in this case, 
the rum will cost him six shillings instead of five. The same 
rule may be applied to every article of foreign make. Pru- 
dence would dictate, that articles which are least necessary, and 
articles which may soonest come to perfection in the state, 
should bear the heaviest tax. The natural and constant opera- 
tion of this tax is two-fold. It is a voluntary tax, and it is a 
spur to industry. No man pays the tax, who is not able and 
willing to buy foreign luxuries : therefore it is voluntary. The 
man who is diligent, and manufactures for himself, has no oc- 
casion for those luxuries : therefore it is a spur to industry. 
In a word, all taxes on property are burdens on the good citi- 
zens : they discourage industry. All excises, or taxes on con- 
sumption, are taxes on luxury and dissipation ; they punish 
idleness and promote industry. Can we hesitate in making our 
choice ? 

The opinions of men have been variously affected in dif- 
ferent countries, on the question concerning an excise, or a 
land-tax, according to their passions or their prejudices. In 
England, the excise has been unpopular, because the multitude, 
who are poor, suspect that they are chiefly affected by such 
taxes. They continue to prefer a land-tax, because none of 
themselves have any land. Doubtless, a land-tax is very proper 

Letters of Sylvius 31 

in that country, because the owners are wealthy, but in Ameri- 
ca the case is different; the poorest of our citizens commonly 
possess a little land. In France, a land-tax is very obnoxious, 
because it is thought to infringe upon the privileges of a num- 
ber of nobility. Their excise is chiefly on the necessaries of 
life ; and is, for that reason, very burdensome. The revenue of 
the Roman Empire, in its prosperous days, arose chiefly from 
excise and customs. That jealous and wise nation did not 
readily submit to a personal or to a land-tax. There was a 
very hurtful trade carried on between Rome and the East 
Indies, by the way of Alexandria and the Red Sea. By this 
trade, a large balance of silver was exported from the empire ; 
frequently to the amount of three millions of dollars a year. 
The returns were chiefly in silks, jewels, and spices — perfect 
luxuries ; for which reason their East India trade was charged 
with a heavy excise.* Augustus ventured to impose a tax of 
five per cent on legacies and inheritances, which was very pro- 
ductive, with the advantage of being a negative tax. The 
land-tax, and poll-tax, had been long in use through the pro- 
vinces : but they do not appear to have been generally imposed 
on the Roman people before the reign of Galienus, who suc- 
ceeded Dioclesian. From that period, direct or positive taxes 
became universal. What was the condition of the Roman peo- 
ple under the administration of customs, excises, and other 
negative taxes, compared with the times in which the land- 
tax, the poll-tax, and other positive taxes, were universal? 
It was an age of gold, "jompared to that of iron. Humanity is 
shocked at the tales of woe that are told. Parents are said, 
during the latter ages of the empire, to have sold their children 
and themselves into slavery, in order to shun the burden of 

All wise governments have thought it their duty, on special 
occasions, to offer bounties for the encouragement of domestic 
manufactures : but an excise on foreign goods must operate as 

* If we admit that the excise on East India goods was equal, as we are told, to 
an eighth part of their price — and if we also admit, as Pliny alleges, that East 
India goods were sold in Rome at one hundred for one on the prime cost, and that 
3,733,332 dollars and upwards, were annually transmitted to India for the pay- 
ment of those goods, the excise must have exceeded forty-six millions of dollars 
annually: but though silk may have been sold, as is affirmed for its weight in gold, 
the general advance seems to have been stated too high: be this as it may, it was 
very proper that a trade so destructive of money, should be compelled to con- 
tribute greatly to the public revenues. 

32 HiSTOKiCAL Papers 

a bounty. Suppose that our annual imports into these states 
are worth 4,000,000 pounds, an excise equal to a tenth part, 
would bring 1,100,000 dollars into the treasuries. This would 
be a very respectable addition to the revenues of these states, 
and would operate in proportion as a bounty for the encourage- 
ment of domestic manufactures. It is true, that as our manu- 
factures increase, our revenue by excise must decrease : but our 
abilities to pay taxes by some other means, must increase much 
faster than the excise decreases. Thus, an excise of two shill- 
ings may be paid in the purchase of a pair of imported shoes, 
which are supposed to be worth ten shillings : the tax goes into 
the treasury: but ten shillings, the price of the shoes, are sent 
out of the country. The next year such a pair of shoes is made 
in the country : in that case, the two shillings are sunk in the 
revenue, but ten shillings are saved to the state, and some of 
the citizens are so much the richer. 

When I say that an excise is more favorable to the poor, 
than a poll-tax, or a land-tax, or any other tax on property, 
and that it tends to promote industry and wealth, I must con- 
stantly be supposed to mean an excise on luxuries, or imported 
goods : and I would also be understood to mean an excise that 
is impartially laid, and fairly collected. Our expectations on 
this head, are not sanguine; nor is the prospect very pleasing: 
for some of the laws that we have hitherto made for collecting 
duties, are shamefully defaced by the want of public spirit: 
they are full of ambiguities through which the knavish and the 
cunning may creep. In North Carolina, it was enacted, that a 
merchant importing goods by land to the value of five pounds, 
should pay duty for the same : but a planter might import goods 
to the value of twenty pounds, though he imported them for 
sale or merchandise, without paying any duty. The author of 
such a clause must have forgotten that he was bound to serve 
the public rather than himself, and that the revenues of the 
state are not to be sacrificed to the convenience of a few 

The general advantage of a sumptuary law, or an excise 
upon imported goods, is so obvious, that I question whether 
any objections can be made to it, except the probability of 
frauds being committed in secreting the goods. Surely the ex- 

Letters of Sylvius 33 

pense of collecting any tax, cannot be an object, when the hap- 
piness and prosperity of a state are contrasted with discontent, 
poverty, and disgrace. If the expense of collecting the revenue 
should amount to ten per cent, no part of that money would be 
lost to the state : and the diligence of public officers might prove 
the means of enriching the country. 

In all places, and at all times, it has been too common for 
merchants to endeavor to defraud the revenue by smuggling 
goods. The frequency of this offense seems at length to have 
altered men's ideas concerning the turpitude of perjury, or 
the baseness of stealing: and there are men who would steal 
from the nation, or defraud the revenue, yet would not on any 
account cheat a private citizen. Be this as it may, there are 
means by which smuggling may be prevented* ; and when the 
people at large have discovered, that they must submit to pov- 
erty and to oppressive taxes, or must support the faithful exe- 
cution of the revenue laws, they will presently admit, that it 
is both honorable and useful to set a mark upon the man who 
violates the laws of the state. 

I have said, that an excise is more favourable to the poor 
than a land or poll-tax. I will venture an additional sentiment : 
there never was a government in which an excise could be of 
so much use as in the united states of America. In all other 
countries, taxes are considered as grievances : in the united 
states, an excise on foreign goods would not be a grievance : 
like medicine to a sick man, it would give us strength : it 
would close that wasteful drain by which our honour and our 
wealth are consumed. What though money was not wanted — 
though we did not owe a florin to any foreign nation — though 
we had no domestic debt — and though the expenses of civil 
government could be supported for many years without a tax 
— still it may be questioned, whether an exise would not be 
desirable. It would certainly be the best expedient for pro- 
moting domestic manufactures : and the condition in which we 

* Every merchant or vender of goods may be required once in a month to set- 
tle his accounts, and pay up the public money or excises he has collected: though 
he sells on credit, he is to account for the excise. It may be required of every 
citizen, that he shall receive from the seller a bill of parcels for every article of 
forign goods he may buy in the state or out of it. Once in every six months 
every freeman or head of a family should render an account to the revenue-officer 
for the county, of all the forign goods he has purchased, by producing the bills, 
upon oath. And he should then pay the excise on all goods he may have bought 
out of the state. The several bills for goods purchased from particular merchants, 
when compared together, may prove a pretty sure mode of detecting frauds. 

34: Historical Papers 

now live — our general dependence on a foreign country for 
arms and clothing — is dishonourable — it is extremely dan- 



Further remarks on an excise — hardships of the pre- 
PLOYING British vessels as the carriers of the pro- 
duce OF this country. 

To the Freemen Inhabitants of the United States — Friends 
and Felloiv Citizens: 

In all ages of the world, and in all governments in which 
the people have been oppressed, their chief complaints have 
arisen from the weight of their taxes, or other impositions of 
a similar tendency. Some tyrants there have been, whose 
cruelty has extended to life as well as property : but the com- 
mon distinction between tyrants has been, that one of them has 
imposed more grievous taxes, or laid them on with less regard 
to the convenience or to the abilities of the subject. Hence it 
is, that governments are preferred, where the power of taxing 
is in the hands of the people : because it is presumed that they 
will impose such taxes as are most profitable, and most easily 

It may happen, nevertheless, that in a republican govern- 
ment the general system of taxing arising from prejudice or 
inattention, may not be of that kind which is most conducive 
to the ease or prosperity of the people. This I take to be the 
case in many of these states; and as the subject is extremely 
interesting, the reader will doubtless excuse me, though I de- 
tain him somewhat longer in considering the particular equity, 
as well as the general operation of an excise or impost, by 
which the whole of the national debt may be discharged. Part 
of our taxes must be paid in specie, and some of them may be 
paid in paper. The interest and principal of our foreign debt 
— the salaries of our ministers in foreign and home depart- 

Letters of Sylvius 35 

ments— and the pay of such troops as are necessarily employed 
in the service of the united states, must be discharged in hard 
money. We shall state the expenses of the federal govern- 
mnt to be 400,000 dollars by the year; for we presume that 
great economy will be used, till we are able to pay our debts ; 
and that we shall try to be just before we are generous. The 
states have not hitherto been called upon for anything more 
than interest on the foreign debt: but the principal of the 
French loan, as well as that from Holland, is to be paid off 
by instalments, and the first of those payments is to be made in 
the year 1787, from which time some part of the principal is 
to be paid oft" every year. Within twelve years the debt is to be 
reduced to a quarter of its present size : but, in the meanwhile, 
the payments of the principal and interest will amount to near 
one million of dollars by the year. This must be paid in specie, 
or in such payments as will command specie to that value: 
but there is a considerable debt which may possibly be dis- 
charged by paper. The annual tax that may be paid in this 
manner, is very uncertain : for though we should discover that 
some of the states have, by assuming a considerable part of 
the continental debt, and by other means, nearly paid their 
quota of the domestic debt, contracted by the united states, still 
it will follow, that the particular debts contracted by the states, 
must be paid. Certificates have been issued for the amount 
of those debts by one class of auditors or another: how is the 
certificate-debt of this state to be reduced? How is it to be 
discharged ? These are difficult questions : they are beyond the 
powers of ordinary calculation: conjecture itself can hardly 
reach them. It has been alleged, that our certificate-debt 
bears some resemblance to that many-headed monster, which 
defied danger : whenever one of its heads was cut ofif, two other 
heads arose to support the loss. Debts of this kind cannot be 
reduced to the ordinary rules of finance. 

We have seen that a tax is to be collected annually for 
the use of the federal treasury in specie, unless we are willing 
to forfeit our honour, and give up all pretensions to national 
character. Is it probable that we shall be able to raise half 
of this sum by all the various taxes on property? I think not. 
It is certain that the whole of our taxes for the present year, 

36 Historical Papers 

after the civil list of the state is paid off, will not produce half 
the sum in specie required for the use of the federal treas- 
ury. Let the poll tax, or land-tax, be increased to three times 
the sum that is now demanded, and there would still be a 
deficiency : but the consequence would be great distress to the 
poorer class of citizens, and multitudes would be constrained 
to fly into the western territory; thousands would complain 
of the scarcity of money ; more paper must be emitted ; that 
paper would again depreciate, and the taxes must again be 
doubled. Thus we should for ever be climbing the hill, and 
for ever sinking to the bottom. But we have other objections 
to taxes on property — they are extremely unequal : they cannot 
be justified, except by necessity, and such necessity does not 
appear. Is it equal or just, that a citizen who lives near a thick 
settlement, or one who lives in the wilderness, should pay the 
same tax for his land, his slave, or any other property which 
he possesses, as a citizen pays who lives near the sea coast? 
The last mentioned takes his lumber, and everything that his 
farm produces, to a ready market ; the other can get nothing 
for his lumber; corn itself is of no use to him when money is 
wanted, and there are few things his farm produces that will 
pay much more than the expense of carrying them to market. 
Those people complain at present — and their complaints are 
v/ell founded — though our taxes are so small as hardly to 
deserve the name : what would they say, if the taxes were such 
as the honour and safety of the nation require? 

Let us consider, on the other hand, the effects of a sub- 
stantial tax on luxuries. As it would be an easy matter to 
raise the whole sum that is wanted both for the federal treasury 
and for our own civil list, by an excise on foreign goods, I 
conceive that all our taxes might be given up, except a small 
land-tax. Under such an administration of the public revenue, 
the whole of our paper money might be called in within the 
space of three or four years ; for in that time the industrious 
citizen may have discharged his private debts ; and as he will 
not be called on for the payment of taxes, there can be no 
honest reason for making more paper. The immediate and 
necessary consequence of such taxes will be the increase of 
domestic manufactures, and the general circulation of hard 

Letters of Sylvius 37 

money. Let us raise 1,000,000 dollars in the next year by im- 
ports and excise ; the consequence will be, that in the following 
year we shall import less goods by at least the amount of 
500,000 dollars, and thus we shall become £200,000 the richer 

that is to say, we shall have paid off so much of our debt ; 

or, being out of debt, we shall have laid up so much hard 
money; for whenever our exports exceed our imports, the 
balance returns in specie. If any man has doubts concernmg 
the efifects of large taxes on foreign manufactures, he should 
turn his eyes to the eastern states, and he will discover, that 
during the late war, sundry manufactures had there been car- 
ried to considerable perfection. We had not been six months 
in the enjoyment of peace, before those manufactures were all 
ruined. The mechanic is generally the first who perceives the 
effects of a pernicious commerce, for the support of his family 
depends on his daily labour. Hence it is, that the merchant 
may be profited by a particular branch of commerce, and may 
promote it diligently, while his country is sinking into a deadly 
consumption. It is the duty of the statesman, either to check 
or to promote the several streams of commerce by taxes or 
bounties, so as to render them profitable to the nation. Thus 
it happens in Massachusetts— A tax of twenty-five per cent, 
was lately imposed on nails, and the poor of Taunton were im- 
mediately restored to life and vigour. If our informer is cor- 
rect, there are at least two hundred and fifty labourers em- 
ployed in the manufacture of nails in that little town. The ef- 
fects of sumptuary laws must be extremely favorable to the 
industrious citizen, who lives one or two hundred miles from 
any navigable water. In those parts the land in general is 
fertile, and provisions are cheap, for they cannot be sent to a 
foreign market — there it is that the manufactures of linen, 
woolen, and iron may flourish. The citizen near the coast 
may possibly indulge in the use of foreign luxuries, while he 
can get them in exchange for a piece of timber, or a bushel of 
corn : by such men our taxes must be paid. But the citizen, in 
the interior country, will attend to his manufactures, which 
may readily be transported to any part of the state : and within 
a few years, we may expect to see the most plentiful-circulation 
of specie in those remote settlements, which are now labouring 

38 Historical Papers 

under the unequal burden of taxes. By such a system of 
finance, perfect justice will be rendered to every citizen; they 
will stand on equal ground : and no man will have reason to 
complain : for every man will fix the amount of his own taxes. 
They will be limited by his abilities, his caprice, or his pru- 

In every regulaton of finance, we should have an eye to a 
vast unsettled country : fertile soil and happy climate invite 
the foot of the adventurous citizen. The inhabitants of that 
country, whenever they are formed into separate states, are 
bound by the present federal rule to pay their quota of the 
national debt, according to the value of their lands and im- 
provements ; or it may possibly be expected, in order to shun 
the impracticable estimation of property, that their quota shall 
be as the number of citizens. Is it to be expected, that men, 
who live at such distance from market, will, for many years, 
pay taxes to the amount? Surely it is not. Though they 
should promise, they will not be able to pay. For this reason, 
we should take care, that the operations of finance shall not 
banish any man into that country. Let the citizen have it in his 
power to live on the sea coast, equally secure as in the western 
countries, without risque of troublesome visits from the col- 
lectors of taxes. In course of time, manufactures must flourish 
in those settlements : and the citizen on the sea coast, who ex- 
ports his produce, may find it his interest to buy goods that are 
made in the western countries. At such a time, we may ex- 
pect that our brethren there shall, without difficulty, contribute 
their share to the support of government. In the meanwhile, 
little can be expected from them, except that they may con- 
sume a small portion of the foreign goods which pay tax when 
they are imported into some of the original states. 

As our manufactures increase, our imports must decrease 
in proportion ; and before the foreign debt is discharged, or be- 
fore thirteen years have revolved, our annual importations may 
fall short of 200,000 dollars. In this case, certainly the revenue 
on consumption must be greatly diminished ; but we are to rec- 
ollect that many articles which grow in these states, must be in 
constant demand in other countries, and that our sale is very 
productive; whence our exports may be near half of what 

Letters of Sylvius 39 

they are at present, after our imports are reduced to a fourth 
or a fifth part of that sum. Such a change of circumstances 
must produce a balance of specie in our favour to the amount 
of 1,000,000 pounds every year; and though it did not produce 
half that sum, there would certainly be a large supply of specie 
in circulation : and the balance of our quota might easily be 
raised by sumptuary laws of another sort. 

Such are the present advantages and future effects that may 
be expected to spring from large and general taxes on foreign 
goods. Let us contrast this with our present condition and 
system of finance. We have stated, in a former letter that by 
the consumption of British manufactures, to the amount of 
one million of dollars, we contribute at least 700,000 toward, 
the revenues of that nation, while our own are perishing: but 
there are other misfortunes and other marks of servitude, to 
which we are subjected by our present arrangement, and th'.i 
general use of British goods. In the several states, to the south- 
ward of the Deleware, it is agreed, that three-fourths of the 
produce are exported, and a similar share of the returns arc 
made in British bottoms. It will be found that for exporting 
lumber, and bringing back the returns, at least one half of the 
property is paid to the carrier. Tobacco, our chief stipl'^, i? 
exported on better terms. Those who have shipped ^obacco 
for London, have the satisfaction to find, that after all charges 
are paid, that is to say, freight, commissions, brokerage, and 
the variety of otVer expenses, real or imaginary, there are 
frequently remaining two-thirds of the value for which it was 
sold. In some cases, three-'fourths of the value have beei^ 
saved. The freight of the returns must be added, and we shall 
state the whole, though it is considerable below the mark, at 
33 1-3 per cent. Some part of those goods are carried irt, 
American bottoms, by which something is saved to the coun- 
try, under all the present burdens of that trade: for this reas- 
on, we shall state the average loss at thirty per cent. From 
this computation it appears, that when produce is shipped for 
London, in one of the southern states, to the value of one 
million dollars, the British merchant draws from that sum 
at least three hundred thousand dollars, under the name of 
freight and other contingencies: this money is for ever lost 

40 Historical Papers 

to the country : and the remaining seven hundred thousand 
which are returned to us in dry goods, must have contributed 
to the revenues of Great Britain at least four hundred and 
ninety thousand dollars. We take them burdened with that 
expense. Surely, our present commerce is of the most extra- 
ordinary kind. Poverty is not the most humiliating circum- 
stances by which it is attended : for under the name of free- 
men, we are little better than slaves — degraded by national 
bankruptcy — burdened by private debts — and constantly la- 
boring in the soil for the benefit of another empire. When 
good and evil are before us, we prefer the latter. We have it 
in our power to promote manufactures — to bring thousands of 
industrious tradesmen from foreign countries — to discharge 
our debts — and to become respectable, rich, and powerful : in- 
stead of that, we are fluttering about in foreign dress, for 
which we cannot pay — we are aping the vices of other nations, 
while we neglect their virtues — without patriotism, and with- 
out pride, we are feeding other people, while our own nation is 
sinking under weakness and poverty. Thus . we have seen 
an idle and thoughtless debauchee neglect the improvement 
of his farm, and spend his time and his estate in a tavern, sup- 
porting the family of another man, while his own family were 
perishing by cold and hunger. 



Statement of the labour requisite in North Carolina 

TRIES IN Europe — however distressing the present sys- 
tem OF Britain is, it is likely to be attended with 


To the Freemen Inhabitants of the United States — Friends 
and Fellow Citizens: 
In these letters, I have endeavoured to explain the true 
cause of the present scarcity of money — the surest and best 
method of obtaining a sufficient supply of substantial coin — and 
the safest method of administering the public revenue, so as to 
prevent the poor from being oppressed, while money is scarce. 

Letters of Sylvius 41 

We are told by medical people, that in discovering the true 
cause of any disease, a considerable progress is made towards 
its cure. It might appear strange, that a fact so obnoxious as 
the true cause of the general scarcity of money should have 
escaped the notice of any person. But it must be remembered, 
that when troubles are occasioned by our own vices, we are 
generally dextrous at invasions, and ingenious at fictions : for 
if we confessed our fault, it would be expected that we should 
amend. Our farmers contend that the merchants are the cause 
of all our troubles : they export the specie, and make it scarce. 
The merchant will have it, that our commercial system is bad : 
his profits are too small, for which reason he cannot pay his 
debts, but all of them, who are in debt, are agreed, that it is 
hard living in this country. Strange positions. The farmer 
buys fineries : his family are idle : all the crop that he can sell, 
does not pay for half the goods he has bought : but he wants 
more fineries, and more rum. He can get no more credit : and 
he pulls out all the specie that lay in his chest. Is the merchant 
to be blamed, for shipping this specie, when the extravagance 
or indolence of the planter could furnish him with nothing else 
to ship? 

As for the merchants, or people who are so called, their 
complaints are just as well founded as those of the planter. 
Thousands of adventurers from the British dominions have 
added to the thousands of our own citizens who are too lazy 
to plough, or labour at any other calling, and for this good 
reason are become merchants, or more properly traders. This 
tribe increases much faster than any other class of citizens ; and 
this class we have to maintain, besides the misfortune of pay- 
ing for their goods ; but when any of those gentlemen find it 
inconvenient to pay their debts, they gravely complain of the 
scarcity of money, because our commercial system is bad. 
Certainly part of our system is bad; for by proper regulations, 
nine-tenths of those merchants that are here, might be ex- 
changed for ten times the number of mechanics, who would 
render much more service to the public and themselves. The 
general charge of its being hard to live in America, has a worse 
foundation, if possible, than the other complaints. There is 
not, at this time, a civilized country on the face of the earth, 

42 Historical Papers 

in which a poor man may live with so much ease as in the 
united states of America. The modes of hving are various in 
the different states : I shall take an example from a southern 
state, namely, North Carolina. 

The necessaries of life are food and clothing. Three- 
fourths of the labor of the human specie are, doubtless, em- 
ployed in procuring food. In the most luxurious countries, 
where the greatest number of unnecessary things are used, 
more than half of the labouring inhabitants are employed in 
agriculture. It is observed, that in England, the very nursery 
of manufactures, the farmers are to the mechanics as four to 
three : the difference is greater in France and Germany : but 
many people are to be fed in those countries, who are neither 
farmers nor mechanics. Let us suppose that half the subjects 
employed in farming would raise provisions sufficient for the 
whole nation, and for their cattle; for that the labour of one 
family in the field is sufficient to maintain two. The produce 
of our labour is greater, and the labour we employ is less. 
Every man who has visited foreign countries, knows with what 
diligence farmers and mechanics are obliged to labour though 
the year. In the winter, their work begins before day: and in 
summer, it continues through the day. They have little respite, 
or time for spending money. If one of them is accosted, he 
seldom stops to answer the question — his work must go on. 
This is not the case in North Carolina : nor have we any ex- 
ample of what other people call industry. If my calculations 
are right, and some of them are annexed,* the citizens of this 

* When the land is good, a labourer, by the help of an indifferent horse, hardly 
worth twenty dollars, may raise seven hundred and iifty bushels of corn in the 
season. He may tend two thousand five hundred hills, which will produce six 
barrels to the thousand. In ordinary land, he may raise tw^o hundred and fifty 
bushels. We may take four hundred bushels for an average, instead of five hun- 
dred. Two labourers, when there are two in the family, may raise near twice the 
quantity: and one good horse is sufficient for both. This corn is planted in May; 
and the care of it is finished in July, except that it is pulled in November. One 
quart of corn by the day is sufficient to make bread for a grown person. There 
are countries in which the same quantity of wheat or rye is the whole daily allow- 
ance of a soldier: and if we lived as three-fourths of the inhabitants of other 
countries are obliged to live, this would be the end of our calculation: but one 
pound of pork or beef is the daily attendant on our bread, else we complain of 
hard fare. Our farmers plant pease among the corn ; and each labourer may count 
on the addition of fifty bushels of pease to his crop, with very little trouble. The 
planter, his wife, and three children, may be supposed to eat fifty bushels of corn 
in the year: fifty bushels more may be reserved for the occasional use of his horse 
and his hogs. This is sufficient, when we consider, that hogs not only support but 
frequently fatten themselves in the woods. The assistance of pease and potatoes 
is employed when necessary. The remaining three-fourths of the planter's crop 
of corn may be sold, and employed as prudence or folly may dictate. 

If any man shall cast his eye on this note, who is not acquainted with the state 
of farming in the lower districts of North Carolina, he might wonder that no 

Letters of Sylvius 43 

state may live with half the labour that would be requisite to 
support them in France, England, or Germany : for the labour 
of one family in this state is sufficient to raise food for the 
support of four families. Is the man candid or honest — is he 
not ungrateful to heaven, who complains of such a country, or 
says, that his troubles are occasioned by the necessary diffi- 
culty of living — by the difficulty of paying taxes — or of provid- 
ing food and raiment — or by any other cause than by his own 
vices — his idleness, and dissipation. 

Our present commercial system, if we have anything that 
deserves that name, is certainly a bad one : but reason may 
teach us to be moderate in our complaints. If the English 
ministry had not cut off all intercourse with their West Indies, 
and distressed our direct intercourse with Britain and Ireland, 
we should have continued a good while longer to take her man- 
ufactures, and to pay for them. By these means, her mechanics 
would have thriven : and we would have been insensibly settling 
down into inveterate and ruinous habits. Diseases which are 
slowly contracted, are said to be hard to remove. The meas- 
ures of Great Britain have in a short space prevented us from 
being able to pay our debts : and they have at the same time 
prevented us from feeding her own subjects. They have 
happily checked our folly, at a time when all are capable of 

allowance was made for the trouble of raising hay, oats, and such other provisions 
as are usually made for horses, sheep, and black cattle. Such a reader may be 
informed, that the blade or fodder of Indian corn is all the provision for this 
purpose that is commonly made use of by the farmers; for the reeds which grow 
every where, and are green through the winter, serve as food for cattle. Perhaps 
it may be noted, that the computation is made for a farmer who has land of his 
own, and that no allowance has been made for the payment of taxes, nor for rents 
which are to be paid by the miserable tenants. To this it may be replied, tliat the 
present land tax is five shillings for the hundred acres: and poll-tax is fifteen shill- 
ings; such debts are soon discharged by an industrious man in a country like tliis, 
where the Spanish dollar being eight shillings, a pair of shoes is sold at 16s. to 20s. 
The day's labour of the carpenter or mason, brings him from eight to twelve shill- 
ings clear of his provisions, and corn is sold at three or four shillings the bushel. 
As for the rents, by which the tenants are frequently grieved, no account is to be 
made of them in a state like this, where nineteen farmers out of twenty cultivate 
their own land. Though there are few citizens who suffer under the hands of a 
landlord, there are many who suffer by the indolence of living on poor and piney 
land. Like the sloth, they are too lazy to gather food, though they see where it 
is plenty. Such people hardly claim our pity. Every one of them knows that on 
the other side of their mountains, on the western waters in this state, lie may buy 
lands in great or in small quantities, at twenty-five dollars for the hundred acres — ■ 
lands of such a quality, as will produce 50 or 60 bushels of corn to the acre. 
Complaints are not grievous that can be so easily removed. 

According to this calculation, the farmer has been employed three months in 
raising his corn, and he has raised in that space four times as much as was re- 
quired for the use of his family. He raised in the same season, at the usual in- 
tervals, flax, cotton, potatoes, pease, and sundry other necessary or useful articles. 
How is he to be exercised on the rest of the year? Some weeks must be em- 
ployed in saving his fodder, corn, potatoes, &c., and some weeks in repairing his 
fences; but a great portion of his time lies vacant, and is usually employed in 
quarter-races, cock fights, sauntering in stores and taverns, drinking rum, and 
spending the residue of his crop. The calculation has been made for the planter 

44 HiSTOEicAL Papers 

amendment, for we have not altogether forgotten the Httle we 
knew of the mechanic arts, nor the few habits of industry that 
we had formerly acquired. In a few years, we may be reduced 
to a new system, by which we shall be more wealthy and less 

Perhaps I deceive myself — ^but I think that I love my coun- 
try, and that no man living is more desirous to serve it — yet 
I am not grieved — on the contrary I view it as a fortunate 
event — that our commercial hopes have teen disappointed, and 
a check given to the baneful spirit of luxury and the general 
use of British goods that was prevailing — Perhaps the time 
is not very distant, when we shall be a frugal and virtuous 
nation. We are not to thank Great Britain for the favor she 
has done us, for she did not intend those commerical restric- 
tions for our good. Let her continue to exclude us from her 
West Indies, and, contrary to good faith, to withhold the west- 
ern posts. The less we gain by commerce, the fewer of her 
manufactures we shall buy, and the sooner we shall make our 
own clothing. A nation less wise might have discovered long 
since, that liberal conduct is most profitable : but she refuses 
to be reformed. 

The commercial history of the united states is short. At 

labouring the field, who maintains three children, incapable of work; but in gen- 
eral half the children of every family are capable to work; hence the surplusage of 
provisions by the labour of two hands will be greater. There they have a planter 
labouring the field, hardly six months in the year, who in that space raises four 
times the food that is required for the support of his family and cattle. In other 
countries, the farmer, by constant labour through the year, can hardly raise twice 
the quantity that is required for the same purpose. Is it not pretty clear that pro- 
visions, the chief necessary of life, are raised in this state with less than half the 
labour that is required in France, England, or Germany? In the articles of cloth- 
ing, the difference of labour that may be required is not so great: but the differ- 
ence is still in our favour. Our winters being temperate, the inhabitants require 
less clothing, and the raw materials are procured with more ease, or with less 
expense, than in the other countries that have been mentioned. Flax grows to 
great perfection; and the land on which it is sown, is cheap, and easily cultivated. 
Cotton is raised with very little trouble: and though the wolf continues to prowl 
in some neighborhoods, yet as sheep thrive well in this climate, and require very 
little feeding, we cannot say that wool ought to be dear. Skins, which are also 
used in clothing, ought to be cheap in a country where black cattle maintain them- 
selves through the winter; and where a man may kill a deer when he pleases for 
his breakfast. Surelj; the scarcity of clothing in this settlement cannot arise from 
the difficulty of obtaining raw materials. There is difficulty remaining — the raw 
materials must be made up, and the people are too lazy to work. Nothing has 
been said concerning house-rent or fuel. For in a country where a common lab- 
ourer may in a fortnight build such a house, out of timber, as is frequently used, 
and in a country where timber, the constant fuel, is frequently cut down, that it 
may be destroyed, very little can be charged to the account of house-rent or fuel, 
considerable articles in many other places. If it should be asked, how is the in- 
dustrious farmer in this country to spend the balance of his time? Every citizen 
knows, that he may be profitably employed in making tar, pitch, shingles, staves, 
boards, or some other species of lumber, which come to a ready market. By 
such means, and by the sale of his pork, or his corn, or other grain, every in- 
dustrious and frugal planter may, in a few years, double his stock. This cannot be 
said of farmers in other countries. 

Letters of Sylvius 45 

the end of the war, our merchants, forsaking the trade of other 
nations by whom we have been well treated, rushed into the 
arms of Great Britain with a spirit that was not honourable, 
and with a haste that was not profitable. — They did not wait 
for terms. — ^They have suffered as they deserved. — Our ship- 
ping has been oppressed. — We have seen a vessel from these 
states to London, laden with naval stores, bring back, as 
the whole produce of her cargo, five pounds worth of chalk. 
The balance of her cargo was absorbed in charges. In conse- 
quence of such treatment our merchants are become bank- 
rupts a little the sooner. — The want of payment at home, and 
the want of profits abroad have effectually disabled them. 

The history of our planters is rather more simple. Dis- 
carding their wheels and looms, they used nothing but what 
was British. They bought more foreign goods in one year, 
than they could pay for in two. Their produce is gone, and 
their specie is chiefly gone, but they are still in debt. Let us 
be more frugal, and more industrious — let us buy no more, 
till we pay our debts. Such are the dictates of honesty and 
patriotism. Is not this plan of paying our debts preferable to 
the expedient of making paper money — an expedient that sub- 
stitutes a shadow for a substance? It converts government, 
which was instituted for the protection of property, into an 
engine, for its destruction. After all, it is the poor expedient 
of a day, which promises relief that it cannot give. The whole 
process is such contemptible quackery, that while we are swal- 
lowing the potion, the disease increases. It is vain to prophecy 
— ^but if the time shall ever come, when the united states are 
to give up part of their liberty, as men frequently have done 
for the greater security of property, the rage of defrauding 
creditors, by making paper money a legal tender, is likely to 
produce the dishonourable change. If it is true, that men have 
not virtue enough to bear a government that is perfectly free, 
the proof is like to come from this quarter. If there were a 
state in this union, in which it was treason to attempt the mak- 
ing of paper, such a state would become the asylum of honesty, 
arts and industry ; and if any of the new states in the western 
country shall happily provide this guard, as part of her con- 
stitution, that state will certainly flourish with singular speed : 

46 Historical Papers 

it will give a new proof that men are most happy when their 
property is safe, and that all men approve of virtue, whatever 
may be their practice. 

The reader is fully possessed of the plan that was proposed 
in the first of these letters, for giving relief under the present 
scarcity of money. The relief given by paper money is neither 
durable nor honest. Nothing but frugality and industry can 
bring us substantial relief ; but the operations of industry, and 
the progress of manufactures, are slow. Specie, which is 
banished, cannot immediately return ; and the poor man, in the 
meanwhile, may be distressed for money to pay his taxes. In 
order to obviate this misfortune, it is proposed that the ex- 
pence of government be paid by an excise on all foreign manu- 
factures, or by sumptuary taxes, which are equally intended to 
promote domestic manufactures, and to give immediate relief 
to every industrious family. By a steady perseverance in this 
plan, the poor would be relieved from the burden of their 
taxes — our citizens would be enabled to discharge their debts — 
we should increase daily in wealth — our country would be the 
resort of ingenious artists. Public and private credit would re- 
vive — and we should become truly independent. 


The Manhood Suffrage Movement in North 

By John W. Carr, Jr. 

The suffrage qualification which was brushed aside by 
the constitutional amendment ratified by the people in 1857 
had endured, in principle at least, since the earliest colonial 
times. The idea of a suffrage qualification was brought m 
under the Lords Proprietors in the Fundamental Constitutions. 
The proprietary government was established on the idea that 
land is the most important form of wealth and that land 
holders should have especial political power. When North 
Carolina became a royal colony these ideas continued in vogue. 
We cannot determine the exact nature of the suffrage require- 
ment under the royal control, but it is known that the king's 
government began with the principle of a free-hold qualifica- 
tion ; and this appears to have been kept during the larger part, 
if not all, of this period.i The lower house in colonial times 
claimed the right to regulate the suffrage requirement; but 
the records would indicate that the assembly, while it passed 
certain acts defining the qualifications of voters, did so for the 
most part according to the instructions of the crown, which 
insisted upon a freehold qualification.^ So it happened that 
the land-holding classes controlled political affairs at the time 
of the constitutional convention of 1776, and so framed this 
constitution as to keep the political power in the hands of the 


In the third Provincial Congress, which met m April, 1776, 
a majority of the constitutional committee was in favor of 
manhood suffrage, but a motion to incorporate this right in 
the constitution was defeated by the freeholders who con- 
trolled the Congress. In the campaign which followed the 
question of equal suffrage was an important issue, but the 
land-holders triumphed.^ Thus the constitution of 1776, al- 
though it stated in its preamble that political power is in the 
hands of the people, allowed only such men as held consider- 

3 Bovd-AntecedenL o" he Convention of 1835 {The South Atlantic Q'-^rterly'^ 
Vol IX p 86) Also, Wagstaff-State Rights and Political Parties in North 
Carolina,' passim; Colonial Records, X, pp. 164-220. 

48 Historical Papers 

able property to hold office. The property requirement for the 
governor was land to the value of £1000. A senator had to 
own three hundred acres of land, and a representative one 
hundred acres in order to hold his seat. The property holders, 
not content with this, provided further that only fifty-acre free- 
holders could vote for a member of the State Senate."* Tax 
paying, however, was the only requirement in order to vote 
for a member of the House of Commons.^ 

It required about seventy years to remove this fifty-acre 
requirement for senatorial sufifrage from the constitution of 
North Carolina. The reasons for this slowness are : First, 
the natural conservatism of the people of North Carolina ; 
vSecond, the economic conditions in the west, where most of 
the inhabitants were small Scotch-Irish farmers owning, as a 
rule, the required fifty acres of cheap mountain land. Thus 
these people were not deprived of the vote, and a condition 
bordering on democracy prevailed. The injustice of the suf- 
frage qualification was not acutely felt until the country be- 
came fairly populous and land rather hard to obtain. Third, 
the intricate methods of revising the constitution provided in 
the amendments of 1835 checked the cause of suffrage reform. 

Previous to the convention of 1835 there was no agitation 
concerning free suffrage, for the second reason stated above. 
So this convention left the matter of free-hold qualification 
unchanged, but it did enact the two methods of amending the 
constitution that long delayed the passage of the free suffrage 
amendment. Two methods of changing the fundamental law 
were provided in the revised constitution of 1835 : first, the 
legislature could amend by endorsing the proposed amendment 
for two successive sessions. The measure must first pass both 
houses by a three-fifths majority of the total representation ; 
then it must be published at least six months previous to the 
next General Assembly. The amendment must be endorsed by 
the representatives selected in this election with a two-thirds 
vote in both houses. A bill thus passed by two legislatures 
in succession must be finally ratified by the voters at the polls 
before it became a part of the constitution.*'* The second 

* The Constitution of 1776. Articles 1, 5, 6, and 7. 

» Ibid. 

» Constitution of 1835, Article 4. 

Manhood Suffrage in North Carolina 49 

method of amendment was by a constitutional convention. 
Such a convention could be called by a vote of two-thirds of 
the General Assembly, which also had the right to provide the 
method of apportionment of members.' Some claimed that the 
legislature had the power to limit the activity of such a con- 
vention to the consideration of a few specified subjects; others 
did not admit this, claiming that a sovereign convention of the 
people could not be limited by legislative enactment. The 
constitution itself was silent concerning the power of limita- 
tion, and this was a much mooted question.^ 

The question of property qualification for sufifrage was not 
brought up in the convention of 1835, but it arose soon after- 
wards.^ In 1842 a mass meeting held in Kinston protested 
against the free-hold requirement. As a consequence of this 
protest, Green W. Caldwell brought the matter before the 
legislature where it met with a cold reception. ^"^ The matter 
was not agitated again until 1848, when David S. Reid injected 
free suffrage into the governor's campaign of that year. 

Previous to the year 1848, the Whigs had controlled the 
political affairs of the state for about twelve years. The 
Democratic party was weak, and it was difficult to get a strong 
leader to run for governor, for defeat seemed certain. Manly, 
the Whig governor, had served one term and was running for 
re-election. He was a brilliant speaker, and had served suc- 
cessfully two years as governor. The chances against the 
Democratic candidate were overwhelming. David S. Reid was 
nominated as a forlorn hope by a unanimous vote of the 
Democratic convention, and was urged to accept in letters 
written by W. W. Holden and Robert P. Dick, both prominent 
leaders of the party. ^^ A committee was also appointed to 
notify him of his nomination and to request his acceptance. 
He replied, declining the nomination. W. W. Holden, then 
editor of the North Carolina Standard, was on the point of 
publishing Reid's refusal to accept the nomination, but John 

■< Ibid. 

* Legislative Documents of North Carolina — 1850-51, House of Commons, De- 
cember 18, 1850. 

' Bassett — Suffrage in North Carolina (American Historical Association, 1895-6, 
p. 81.) 

" Raleigh Register, June 22, 1842. 

"MSS. Correspondence of Governor Reid; letters dated April 10 and April 
19, 1848. 


Julius Wheedon, an ardent Democratic partisan, persuaded 
Holden to wait a week before publishing Reid's letter of re- 
jection. ^2 fYiQ editor consulted his friends, and it was decided 
to send a message to Colonel Reid, and to urge him in earnest 
terms to accept the nomination. He was asked to come to 
Raleigh at once, prepared to enter on the campaign against 
Governor Manly. He was finally persuaded to accept the 
nomination. The platform on which Reid was nominated 
contained no allusion to manhood suffrage, but on accepting 
the nomination he said to some of his friends, "Gentlemen, this 
nomination was not sought by me, and it has been my purpose 
for a long time if I should be a candidate for a state office 
before the people, to broach one issue, which I deem very im- 
portant. What I mean is that the state constitution shall be so 
amended that all voters for a member of the House of Com- 
mons shall be allowed to vote for Senators. "^^ 

Some of those present at this statement favored the idea 
but others opposed it. Colonel Reid decided for himself, and 
at Beaufort in the first joint discussion of the campaign he 
took ground in favor of manhood suffrage. Mr. Manly asked 
to be allowed one day to think over this issue, and at Newbern 
he stated that he was opposed to any changes in the qualifica- 
tions for voters. ^^ Thus the introduction of this issue into the 
political arena of the state was the personal act of Colonel 
Reid, he not being supported by the platform of his party. The 
decision of the Whig candidate to oppose manhood suffrage 
had much to do with the later failure of his party in North 

Throughout the campaign of 1848 Mr. Manly, the Whig 
nominee, maintained his position of opposition to the free suf- 
frage issue. He claimed that the qualifications should be kept 
as a protection to property, and that the abolition of the fifty- 
acre free-hold requirement would destroy the symmetry of 
the constitution by giving both houses of the legislature the 
same constituency. He designated free suffrage as political 
claptrap, and a hobby advocated by an office-hungry party. He 

" MSS. Correspondence of D. S. Reid: Holden to Reid, December 22nd, 1880. 
"Memoirs of W. W. Holden (John Lawson Monographs, Vol. II), p. 5. 
» Ibid. 
^= Ibid. 

Manhood Suffrage in ISTortii Carolina 51 

attempted to show that it was only a half -remedy. He pointed 
to the property quahtication for holding office and to the basis 
of representation, and asked the Democrats why they did not 
propose to change them also. He maintained that as long as 
representation was apportioned in the Senate according to 
taxation and in the House according to federal population, 
there could be no equality of the ballot. The county having 
the most property was given under the existing basis a larger 
representation than the larger, more populous, but poorer 
counties ; hence the few voters of a rich county had more 
power over the government than the many voters in a poor 
county. Manly claimed that any talk of equal suffrage was 
mere humbug as long as the basis remained unchanged. But 
the Whig candidate did not directly favor changes in the basis 
or property qualifications. He held that there was no demand 
for reform and that, if there was, it should be brought about 
by a non-partisan movement ; such a method of amendment he 
claimed would remove the constitution from the dirt and grime 
of party politics. ^"^ 

In this campaign Mr. Manly was elected by a majority of 
864 votes, but the power of the manhood suffrage issue is 
shown by the fact that the Whig majority in the previous cam- 
paign had been 7,759.^" 

The campaign of 1848 was significant because it determin- 
ed the position of the two political parties on the issue of 
equal suffrage, and started a contest that ended in the com- 
plete triumph of the Democrats over the Whigs. Henceforth 
the Democrats stood clearly for the one issue of manhood 
suffrage by legislative enactment ; the Whigs were at first 
opposed to it, but upon realizing the great popularity of 
the issue with the voters, tried to hinder and complicate it 
with various side issues. The Whigs could not well admit the 
importance of an issue which they had at first opposed, calling 
it agrarianism, bunco, and a hobby ; nor could they continue 
to oppose it on account of its popularity with the voters. Such 
a critical position necessitated a dilly-dallying policy, which 
caused the ruin of the party. Henceforth the Democratic 

^"^ Raleigh Register, February 26, 1848; May 27, 1848; June 1, 1848; July 
12, 1848. 

" Memoirs of W. W. Holden, pp. 1-6. 

52 Historical Papers 

party carried the state by large majorities, but was for some 
tirrie unsuccessful in its attempts to pass the free suffrage 

During the legislative session of 1848-9 a bill providing for 
equal suffrage was brought into the House of Commons by 
Mr. Sheek of Surry County.^^ It finally passed the House of 
Commons by a vote of 75 to 26, this being something over the 
constitutional majority of three-fifths. A bill introduced by 
Mr. Rayner, a Whig, to call a convention for the amendment 
of the constitution was rejected. ^^ Such a proposition at this 
early stage of the fight for free-sufifrage was significant be- 
cause certain opponents of free suffrage afterwards favored 
the convention method of amendment rather than the legisla- 
tive scheme. On January 23, 1849, the Sheek bill was rejected 
in the Senate, not having received the necessary three-fifths 
majority in that body.-*^ The party alignment on this vote is 
interesting because it shows that both parties were divided on 
this issue in the Senate, which was pre-eminently the strong- 
hold of the land-holding interest, Senators being elected only 
by fifty-acre free-holders. Nineteen Democrats and six Whigs 
voted for the free suffrage bill ; while thirteen Whigs and six 
Democrats voted against it.-^ 

In the campaign of 1850 the slogan of the Democrats was 
"Equal suffrage, or the right of every white man in the state 
who pays his taxes to vote for members of both branches of 
the legislature." Reid w^as not at all anxious to make another 
trial for the governship and asked that his name be not pro- 
posed before the Democratic convention ; but party leaders, 
realizing the popularity of the author of free suffrage, obtained 
for him the unanimous choice of the convention. He was thus 
persuaded to make another campaign. -^ The Whigs nomi- 
nated Manly for re-election. The position of the two parties 
on the free suffrage issue was practically the same as in the 
previous campaign. The Democrats favored amendment by 
legislative action ; the Whigs either opposed, calling the move- 
ment a humbug, a hobby for office seekers, or agrarianism, or 

" North Carolina Standard, January 3, 1849. 

^0 Ibid., January 17, 1849. 

^0 Ibid., January 31, 1849. 

" Ibid. 

^ Reid MSS., Letter May 25, 1850. 

"7^; 7 3 » 

Manhood Suffrage in Noetii Carolina 53 

favored such dilatory measures as a convention or an election 
to determine the will of the people as to a convention or no 
convention. In this election Colonel Reid was chosen Governor 
by a vote of 45,080 to his opponent's 42,347.23 

In his message to the legislature in November, 1850, Gov- 
ernor Manly said on the subject of amendment of the consti- 
tution : "It cannot be denied that a large, respectable, and in- 
telligent portion of this state are strongly inclined to alter the 
constitution." He said that whereas the movement first start- 
ed for only one change in the constitution so as to allow white 
freemen with or without freehold to vote for senators, it had 
expanded, and some reformers were demanding a change in 
the basis of representation in the Assembly, in the mode of 
electing state officers, and a revolution in the judiciary system. 
He urged that the legislature should first be convinced that the 
people desired a change and suggested that an election be held 
to find their will on the subject. He pointed out the two 
methods of constitutional amendment, and urged that whatever 
methods were used manhood suffrage alone be dealt with in 
order that it might not be hindered by other less desirable 
changes.-^ The attitude taken by Governor Manly shows 
how much the popularity of free suffrage had changed his po- 
sition. He merely wanted to be convinced that the people 
desired the change. He favors indirectly the convention method 
of amendment but is not uncompromising on this point. The 
Whigs followed their leader with respect to free suffrage, but 
rising discontent in the west with the basis of representation led 
the Whig party to come out strongly for a convention. 

This discontent in the west over the inequality of repre- 
sentation in the Senate was fast gaining headway. The con- 
stitution of 1835 had apportioned representation in the House 
of Commons according to federal population, obtained by 
counting all the white people and three-fifths of the negroes.-^ 
Representation in the Senate had been divided between the 
different sections according to the amount of taxes paid. The 
total amount of money collected by the state for taxes was 
divided by fifty, and the quotient thus obtained was made the 

^^ North Carolina Standard, December 7, 1850. 

^ Ibid., November 23, 1850; Raleigh Register, November 23, 1850. 

*^ Revised Constitution of 1835. Article I, section 1. 

54 HisTOKicAL Papers 

determinant of a senatorial district. Several counties paying 
in the aggregate the required one-fiftieth of the state taxes 
were grouped into one district and allowed to elect one sena- 
tor.-'^ In some cases it happened that one small but wealthy 
county had the right to elect a senator, while three or four 
large and populous counties would be grouped into one district 
and have the right to only one senator.-" There was little 
objection in the west to the apportionment in the Commons 
according to federal number, even though this method did 
favor the east where there was a greater number of slaves than 
in the west. The taxation basis in the Senate, however, was 
disadvantageous to the west because this section was poor and 
paid little in taxes. The inequality is shown by the fact that 
in 1851 one district in the west contained thirty thousand white 
inhabitants and was allowed only one senator, while an eastern 
district with 4,400 white inhabitants had the same representa- 
tion in the Senate. ^^ The question of constitutional reform be- 
ing discussed, the west considered it a good time to try to get 
rid of the unjust taxation basis in the Senate and to substitute 
apportionment of members according to white population. The 
white basis, as this scheme was called, would give to the west 
a majority in the Senate and enable this section to carry out 
the progressive policy of internal improvement which it fa- 
vored. The politicians of this section realized that free suf- 
rage was a popular issue and that there was a possibility of 
calling a convention to consider it. In the convention thus 
called they hoped to amend the constitution so as to obtain the 
white basis in the Senate. Most of this movement for a 
convention to change the basis came from the Whigs of 
the west, and the western men of both parties in the leg- 
islature of 1850-51 were opposed to manhood suffrage by 
legislative action, and in favor of a convention to revise the 
constitution. The western politicians called their movement 
for the white basis of representation "Equal suffrage," while 
naming the movement for extension of the franchise "Free 

"" Constitution of 1835. Article I, section 1. 

" Speech by David Caldwell (the Constitution of North Carolina, pamphlet 
of 1851). 
2" Ibid. 
'■'o Ibid., p. 40. 

Manhood Suffrage in North Carolina 55 

The east favored manhood suffrage, altho there was some 
opposition from the Whigs of that section. All of the east, 
however, was firm in its opposition to any changes in the basis 
of representation because the existing basis — taxation in the 
Senate and federal population in the House — was favorable in 
every respect to the east. This section of the state paid more 
taxes because of its great wealth in slaves and lands ; hence it 
had a majority in the Senate despite the fact that it was in- 
ferior to the west in respect to white population. In the House 
of Commons the east was favored by the existing basis because 
of its great number of slaves. Three-fifths of these were 
counted in apportioning representation in the lower house. So 
the east had the political power in its hand, and was anxious 
to keep it because it was argued that if the west were allowed 
the majority in the legislature the property of the east would 
be taxed to carry out the internal improvement policy so much 
desired in the west. Hence, the east believed that the existing 
basis gave only a fair representation to property. It was 
strongly opposed to any convention that would change the 
existing compromises of the constitution and place the political 
power in the hands of the west. So sectionalism complicated the 
issue of free suffrage and long prevented its passage. The 
pro-conventionist felt that if manhood suffrage was granted 
by the legislature there would be no more hope of obtaining 
a convention to change the basis. In the legislatu^'e of 1850-51, 
the Whigs of the west and some Democrats from that section 
voted against the free suft'rage bill and in favor of a constitu- 
tional convention. -""^ Several of the western Democrats voted 
in favor of amendments to the free suffrage bill providing for 
a convention, but on the final reading registered their votes for 
free suffrage when they saw that there was no chances to get 
a convention. 

The Democratic party as a whole quickly opposed the pro- 
posal of the westerners to make a change in the basis. In his 
inaugural address of 1851 Governor Reid declared that a 
large majority of the people favored free suffrage and that 
it should be given to them by legislative enactment. He op- 
posed any change in the method of apportioning representa- 

2° Constitution of North Carolina (pamphlet), pp. 56, 59, 61, 63, 64. 

56 Historical Papers 

tion. At this time the Democratic party of the South con- 
sidered itself the pectiHar protector of the institution of slavery 
and of southern rights. It was, therefore, fitting that Demo- 
crats should stand against any attempt to abolish the repre- 
sentation allowed by the federal basis to slaves in the House 
of Commons. Governor Reid held that slaves should be 
represented as persons as well as property and that any agi- 
tation of the slave question within the State was inexpedient 
at a time when the North was active in its attacks on southern 
institutions. Thus the Democratic party, because of its na- 
tional policy of radical protection of slavery, was able to assume 
a firm attitude of opposition to a change of the basis or a con- 
vention that might change it. The party favored manhood 
suffrage by legislative enactment alone. 

The Whig party, for several reasons, was not able to take 
as definite a stand on these questions as was the Democratic. 
In the first place, the national Whig party was conservative in 
its attitude toward slavery and southern rights. The willing- 
ness of southern Whigs to compromise with the North on the 
question of slavery extension laid them open to a charge of 
unsoundness by the Democrats. Hence it was necessary that 
the Whig party in North Carolina, if it was to keep the confi- 
dence of the slave-holders, should declare positively its opposi- 
tion to any change of the basis that would lessen the control of 
slave owners over the state government. But the composition of 
the Whig party in the state prevented it from assuming such a 
positive attitude. Unlike the Whig party in the lower south, 
the Whig strength in North Carolina was mainly in the western 
counties.^ ^ Here there lived the small farmer who owned few 
if any slaves and little land. This very important element of 
the Whig party naturally favored a white basis of representa- 
tion. The Whig party of the state, then, was in a dilemma. 
If it favored the white basis it would lose the support of the 
eastern slave-holding wing; if it did not favor a change in the 
basis there was danger of a revolt of the western small land- 
holders. In such a quandary the Whigs compromised by favor- 
ing a convention to amend the constitution, neither favor- 

" See Cole, Whig Party in the South; also Wagstaff, State Rights and Po- 
litical Parties in North Carolina. 

Manhood Suffrage in Noktii Carolina 57 

ing nor opposing directly a change in basis. Like all com- 
promises this one was unsatisfactory to both sides and lost sup- 
port for the Whigs. However, the party devised a strong 
argument in favor of amendment by convention. It held that 
free suffrage by legislative enactment had been brought forth 
as a hobby by a party of office seekers ; that the Democrats 
were not as anxious to establish free suffrage as they were to 
gain political power; as soon as free suffrage was granted by 
the legislature the Democrats would, for party purposes, use 
some such needed reform as the abolition of the office holding 
qualification or the election of Justices of the Peace by the peo- 
ple as a hobby on which to ride again into office. "Why not 
raise the constitution above partisan politics ?" asked the Whigs. 
"Why not call a non-partisan convention that would grant all 
needed reforms, preserve the symmetry of the constitution, 
and prevent office-hungry politicians from riding into office on 
constitutional hobbies P"^^ 

The entrance of the sectional issue into the question of free 
suffrage helped the Democratic party and injured the Whigs. 
The former party was able to hold its eastern strength through 
opposition to change of the basis and to conciliate its western 
members by offering them free suffrage by legislative enact- 
ment. The Whigs, being forced to assume an ambiguous, de- 
fensive attitude, lost the support of both sections to some ex- 
tent. The advantageous position chosen by the Democrats, 
and the disadvantageous one forced upon the Whigs by the 
sectional issue, determined the future history of political parties 
in the state ; henceforth the Democrats waxed stronger, and 
the Whigs became weaker. 

It was soon evident that the majority of the members of 
the legislature of 1850-51 was in favor of abolishing the free- 
hold requirement for voting for a senator, but there was dis- 
agreement as to the method of accomplishing this desired end. 
There was some movement to place the issue above party 
lines, but the Democrats had a good thing and knew how to 
push it ; besides, where party lines were broken sectionalism 
came into play. In the House of Commons, the committee on 
amendments to the constitution consisted of McClean, Ruffin, 

^^ Raleigh Register, January 2, 1850; February 1, 1851; March 15, 1851. 

58 HisTOEicAL Papers 

Stevenson, Foster of Davidson, and Blow. It represented both 
parties ; all members except Foster were in favor of amend- 
ment by legislative action. ^^ All bills introduced in the House 
on the subject of constitutional reform were referred to this 
committee. The first bill introduced was by R. G. A. Love, of 
Haywood. It provided for the holding of an election for the 
selection of delegates to an unlimited convention. Fleming, 
of Yancey, brought in a resolution instructing the committee to 
inquire as to the advisability of holding a preliminary election 
to see if the people favored a change in the constitution and 
report by bill or otherwise. This resolution was adopted after 
considerable debate, in which most of the speakers urged that 
the matter of constitutional change be placed above party 
lines. ^^ Early in December Fleming of Yancey introduced a 
bill to submit to the people the question of convention or no 
convention. A lengthy discussion ensued as to whether or 
not this bill should be referred to the committee. Some mem- 
bers were suspicious of the fairness of the committee on con- 
stitutional amendment, because it was known that the majority 
of it was in favor of amendment by the legislature. The bill 
was finally referred to the committee. The Love bill, 
which had been tabled, was also referred to the committee 
after considerable debate.^^ 

In all, three different propositions were submitted to the 
committee : one was to amend the constitution by action of the 
legislature; another, to hold an election to ascertain whether 
or not the people desired a convention ; the third was to call a 
convention if approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. 
A report was made favoring manhood suffrage by legislative 
enactment, and a bill providing for this was introduced by the 
committee in its majority report. Mr. Foster made a minority 
report setting forth various reasons for calling a convention. 
Among these were : first, the people of North Carolina had 
never had opportunity to frame their own constitution ; second, 
all political power is in the hands of the people ; third, a thor- 
ough revisal in respects other than suffrage was desirable. ^'^ 

Soon after having submitted this report, Mr. Foster made 

^ North Carolina Standard, November 27, 1850. 

^ Ibid.. November 23, 1850. 

^•^ Ibid., December 7, 1850. 

^"Constitution of North Carolina (pamphlet), 1851, pp. 47, 48. 

Manhood Suffrage in North Carolina 59 

a speech before the House in favor of holding an election to 
find whether or not the people desired a convention. He 
argued that the people had never been permitted to hve under 
a Constitution of their own making and woidd never be at- 
isfied until they were allowed to do so. He also c lamied 
stran-e to say, that amendment by convention was cheapei 
hanly legislative means.^^ He said that he had concluded 
that tZ people desired a change and that he favored a conven- 
on to bring it about. He proposed a bill submitting the ques- 
tion of convention or no convention to the people and by such 
an election wished to remove thedoubtsof some as to the desire 
of the people for constitutional reform. He was answered byM . 
Avery of Burke, a Democrat, who spoke in favor of aniend- 
ment by legislative enactment. Mr. Walton, Mr. Avery s Whig 
colleague, favored a convention which would brn.g about a 
change in the basis of representation. He thus unintentionally 
revealed the desire of a large number of the Whigs to use the 
free suffrage movement as a means of obtaining a convention 
Irwhich tLy hoped to change the basis. On December 23 
Mr Caldwell, of Guilford, made an eloquent speech setting 
forth the position of the western Whigs. He pointed out the 
existing unfairness in representation between the sections 
showed the injustice of apportionment based on taxation, and 
favored an unHmited convention. He argued that free suf- 
frage would be a humbug if the basis of representation was 
not changed and urged that the convention be called to mal<e 
this and other changes in the constitution. He ended by de- 
nouncing the manhood suffrage movement as a hobby used 
by adroit politicians as a method of obtammg ofhce. _ 

Discussion in the House of Commons continued on into 
1851 Mr. Saunders of Wake further complicated the discus- 
sion by favoring a change in the basis for the Senate, but he 
proposed the federal population basis of representation, i^ e 
apportionment of Senators according to popuation arrived at 
by'counting all white people and three-fifths of all the negroes^ 
This, of course, would have been somewhat favorable to the 
east where slaves were moi^plentif^^ 

-^71^;;;^^^— ;— 1^;;^^, December 13, 1850, and Raleigk Register, De- 

""^ Speech' o'f°-David Caldwell (pamphlet). 

^^ North Carolina Standard, January 11, 1851. 

60 Historical Papers 

The regular committee bill embodying the Democratic idea 
of amendment by legislative enactment came up for vote in the 
House on December 31, and many attempts were made 
to incorporate amendments embodying the ideas pointed out 
above. The vote on these amendments was always for rejec- 
tion and very nearly according to party lines, three Democrats 
and five Whigs voting different from the main body of their 
party. The bill was finally passed on the second reading by a 
vote of 89 to 24, many Whigs voting with the Democrats for 
the bill.'*^ The measure came up for its third reading early in 
the new year, and its opponents tried again to put through 
amendments but again failed. The bill was rejected on this 
reading by a vote of 69 to 41, this being four less than the re- 
quired constitutional majority of three-fifths. A reconsidera- 
tion was moved, and there was much discussion as to whether 
it would require a three-fifths or a majority vote to reconsider. 
Sixty voted for reconsideration, and the chair held that this 
was sufficient.^^ On January 14, 1851, the bill, being recon- 
sidered, passed its third reading by a vote of 75 to 36, the con- 
stitutional year being 72.^- At this time an amendment 
proposed by Erwin to give a white basis of representation in 
the Senate was defeated by an overwhelming vote. It is evi- 
dent that many Whigs desired free suffrage and voted for it 
when they saw that there was no hope of obtaining a con- 

The bill which had passed the House was sent up to the 
Senate where there had already been some preliminary dis- 
cussion. Here Woodfin, of Buncombe county, was leader of 
the westerners who were in favor of an open convention and 
the white basis. The amendments setting forth various ideas 
— such as other constitutional changes, unlimited convention, 
change of basis, and election for ascertaining the will of the 
people — were proposed and rejected by close majorities. The 
advocates of manhood suffrage were determined to incorporate 
in the perfected measure the one issue : a free suffrage amend- 
ment by legislative enactment. The bill was rejected on its 

*" Constitution of North Carolina (pamphlet), pp. 64-67. 
*' North Carolina Standard, January 15, 1851. 
*■ Ibid., January 18, 1851. 

Manhood Suffrage in North Carolina 61 

first reading by the vote of 29 pro and 20 con, the majority not 
being the required three-fifths. On January 22 a motion to 
reconsider was carried, and an amendment to the bill abolish- 
ing the property qualification of a Senator was rejected by a 
large majority. The bill was then passed by a vote of 32 to 16 
on its second reading."*^ The passage of the bill was made pos- 
sible because several members of the Senate from the east, 
realizing that western Whigs were voting against manhood 
suffrage so as to save the issue as a reason for calling a con- 
vention, decided to accept the lesser of what they considered 
two evils and changed their votes in favor of the free suffrage 
amendment. '*2 In this the eastern senators were also influ- 
enced by a sharp political move on the part of the Democrats 
of the House. A bill calling a convention was taken up by the 
Democrats in the House and rushed through two readings. 
They figured correctly that this would frighten the members 
of the Senate into passing the free suffrage amendment. The 
Senate was controlled by land-holders and slave-holders ; hence 
its members opposed a convention for fear that it would 
change the basis."*^ On the 23rd of January the free suffrage 
amendment bill came up on its third reading in the Senate. 
Mr. Joyner spoke in opposition several hours, he being one of 
the few men who dared to oppose any and every form of free 
suffrage. He made a typical land-owner's speech. An amend- 
ment providing that the bill should not be construed so as to 
allow free negroes to vote passed unanimously. The bill then 
passed its third reading by a vote of ZZ to 16. The House 
quickly agreed to amendments, and the bill was ordered to 
be engrossed.^^ 

The manhood suffrage bill passed by the constitutional ma- 
jority of three-fifths of both houses in the legislature of 
1850-51 read in part as follows: "Be it enacted by the Gen- 
eral Assembly of the State of North Carolina . . . three- 
fifths of the whole number of members of each house concur- 
ring, that the third section of the first article of the . . . 
constitution ... be amended by striking out the words, 

*^^North Carolina Standard, January 25, 1851. 

*- Raleigh Register, January 23, 1851. 


** North Carolina Standard, January 25, 1851. 

62 Historical Papers 

'and possessed of a free-hold within the same district of fifty 
acres of land for six months next before and at the day of the 
election,' so that said clause shall read as follows : 'Section 2, 
all free white men of the age of twenty-one years . . 
who have been inhabitants of any one district within the state 
for twelve months preceding the day of any election and shall 
have paid a public tax, shall be entitled to vote for a member 
of the Senate.' "-^^ 

The opposition which had to be overcome in order to pass 
this bill for the first time was composed mainly of western 
Whigs. As has been pointed out, members from this section 
desired a convention mainly for the purpose of changing the 
basis. They felt that it was an injustice that the east, with a 
minority of the white inhabitants of the state, should have 35 
senators; while the west, with a majority of white population, 
had only 15. This was due to the apportioning of representa- 
tion in the Senate according to taxes paid. Before the amend- 
ment could be incorporated in the constitution it would have to 
be passed by a two-thirds vote of the next legislature. In the 
interval between these two legislatures those favoring the con- 
vention method of amendment began a campaign to undo the 
progress already accomplished and to arouse public sentiment 
for a convention. 

The immediate cause of the discontent in the west with the 
basis is found in the opposition of the legislature of 1850-1851 
to internal improvements. The west was an undeveloped 
section, and its inhabitants favored the building of railroads 
and other measures that would increase the commercial im- 
portance of the section. The east had to pay most of the taxes 
and did not especially desire the improvement of the west. 
The east did not care to spend its tax money in building up 
the other section of the state. Previous to 1850 the North 
Carolina Railroad, connecting the east and the west, had been 
chartered. In the legislature of 1850-1851 resolutions had 
been offered to repeal the charter of this railroad and to repu- 
diate the subscription which the state had made to its capital 
stock. Also a bill was introduced providing that no appro- 
priation over $100,000 could be made without the concurrent 

« Ibid. 

Manhood Suffrage in I^ortii Carolina 63 

majorities of the legislature in two consecutive sessions.''*' 
Neither one of these proposals were adopted, but they angered 
the western representatives. They realized that they must have 
more power in the government in order to force through their 
policy of internal improvements. In order to get this power 
they favored a change of the basis, and looked to a convention 
to bring about such a change. 

Just after the legislature of 1850-51 adjourned, "a meeting 
composed principally of western members of the legislature, 
without distinction of party" was held in Raleigh. An Ad- 
dress To The People Of North Carolina On The Subject Of 
Constitutional Reform was drawn up at this meeting. This 
document pointed out that all the free people of the state had 
never had a voice in organizing its government ; that the con- 
stitution of 1776 had been drawn up by a body composed of 
the large land-holders, and containing far more eastern than 
western representatives ; that the convention of 1835 was 
limited by legislative action, and that the constitutional amend- 
ments drawn up by this convention were undemocratic in 
respect to the taxation basis in the Senate and in continuing the 
limitation of the senatorial electorate to those having a free- 
hold of fifty acres. This address objected strenuously to the un- 
fairness in representation of the different sections and asked 
that it be abolished. It pointed out that there were other con- 
stitutional changes desired, such as the election of judges by 
the people and claimed "that the only proper republican mode 
of amending or altering the constitution is by the people them- 
selves in convention assembled." It traced the history of the 
amendment recently passed and charged that it was secured by 
means of log-rolling and claimed that the western politicians 
had opposed it because the issue was squarely one of free suf- 
frage alone, or a convention with hopes of other desired 
changes. The address closed by pointing out the advantages 
of the convention method over the legislative method of 

This address, which was the shibboleth of the opposition, 
was signed by about forty politicians, most of whom were 

*" Raleigh Register, April 30, 1851. 

*' Constituiton of North Carolina (pamphlet), 1851. 

64 HiSTOKiCAL Papers 

Whigs from the west. This meeting held in Raleigh was the 
beginning of a movement among the westerners to break away 
from the old parties, both Whig and Democratic, and to put 
out fusion candidates in the west who would work for a con- 
stitutional convention. The meeting of politicians at Raleigh 
was followed by assemblies of the people in the western 
counties. On February 18, 1851, a large and enthusiastic 
meeting was held in Watauga County. Resolutions were adopt- 
ed declaring that whereas the people had previously expressed 
a desire that the constitution be amended so as to give a white 
population basis of representation, and nothing had been done, 
that there ought to be an unrestricted convention, the dele- 
gates to which should be elected on a white basis ; that said 
convention ought to change the constitution so as to grant 
popular election of judges, the white basis, free suffrage, and 
abolition of the property qualifications for holding office. ^^ 
In a meeting in Buncombe a definite plan for a new political 
organization was formulated. The new party styled itself 
The Republican Party of North Carolina, and adopted the 
ivill of the people as its motto. The Buncombe meeting pledged 
itself to nominate a candidate for governor without regard to 
former party affiliation, and to oppose the taxation basis in the 
Senate. A similar meeting in Henderson pledged itself to 
vote for no man who did not favor an unrestricted conven- 
tion. ^^ Meetings were held in Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, 
Rutherford, and Cleveland counties to gain support for the 
new movement. ^'^ The Whigs of the east, in reply to the new 
party movement, declared to their leaders that they would 
not adopt a pledge to vote for candidates who favored a white 
basis, nor would they support any man who favored an unre- 
stricted convention.^ 1 Those who wished to compromise 
argued that there was no hope of obtaining an unrestricted 
convention, because to call such a body a two-thirds vote of 
the legislature was required and that the legislature was con- 
trolled by the east ; also that a new party would not test the 
strength of the white basis issue, because other considerations 

*^ Raleigh Register, February 22, 1851. 

*' North Carolina Standard, April 19, 1851; Raleigh Register, April 30, 1851. 
'^Raleigh Register, May 7, 1851; North Carolina Standard, May 7, 1851. 
^^ Ibid., May 3, 1851. 

Manhood Suffrage in North Carolina 65 

would determine many votes. •''•- The Democrats of the west, 
as a rule, stuck to their party and left the new movement to 
the Whigs ; for instance, the Democrats of Buncombe held a 
meeting and declared for Reid, Democracy and free suffrage 
and did not mention the question of a convention. ^""^ Thus it 
came about that in the campaign of 1852 Democrats were 
united on the single issue of manhood suffrage by legislative 
enactment, while the Whigs were divided, those of the West 
favoring manhood suffrage and other constitutional amend- 
ments by means of an unlimited convention, and the conserva- 
tives of the east either opposing any constitutional changes or 
desiring merely manhood suffrage either by legislative enact- 
ment or limited convention. 

The Whigs held their state convention on April 26, 1852. 
There were conflicting opinions as to constitutional reform, but 
leaders on both sides showed a willingness to compromise. 
Mr. John Kerr was nominated as candidate for governor. 
The adopting of a platform was difficult, but the Whigs tried 
to take a position on constitutional reform which would harm- 
onize their contending factions. Section seven, on this sub- 
ject, read: "Resolved, that in the opinion of this convention 
whenever amendments are to be made to our state constitution, 
they should be effected by a convention of the people elected 
on the basis of the House of Commons, and we are in favor of 
submitting it to the people to say whether such a convention 
shall be called or not for the purpose of making necessary 
amendments."-''^ It is easy to note the elements in this plat- 
form which were the result of a compromise. The Whigs 
could not favor an unlimited convention for fear of estrang- 
ing the eastern conservatives ; nor could the party repudiate 
the convention method for fear of angering the west. So the 
platform did not clearly advocate a convention, but merely 
favored submitting the question to the people ; in return for 
this concession from the west, it was decided to favor this sec- 
tion by apportioning the representation in any convention call- 
ed according to federal population. Since three-fifths of all 

^- Ibid., April 30, 1851. 
^ Ibid., April 17, 1851. 
^ Ibid., April 28, 1852; North Carolina Standard, May 5, 1852. 

66 Historical Papers 

the slaves were counted in federal population, this was a con- 
cession to the slave-holding east.^^ 

The Democratic platform of 1852 contained two articles on 
the subject of manhood suffrage. Article seven declared that 
the constitution of the state having provided for amendment by 
legislative action and three-fifths of both houses of the last 
General Assembly having voted for free suffrage, the Demo- 
cratic party was in favoring of reaffirming it by the required 
two-thirds majority in the next assembly. The eighth article 
of the platform declared against a change of the basis of rep- 
resentation in either the House or the Senate. The Democrats 
nominated Governor Reid to succeed himself as chief ex- 

It was a very uneven fight which was waged in the canvass 
of 1852. The Democrats were firm in their two most import- 
ant issues, namely : manhood suffrage by legislative enactment 
and opposition to a change of basis. The Whigs were divided on 
the question of the basis, and part of them supported the con- 
vention scheme merely for the sake of party unity and of oppo- 
sition to the Democrats. Thus it was that Reid, the Demo- 
cratic candidate for governor, could come out squarely for 
manhood suffrage all over the state. Kerr, the Whig nominee, 
tried to relegate the manhood suffrage Cjuestion to the back- 
ground, stating that it was a harmless sort of an issue and 
claiming that the constituion was good enough in its existing 
condition. He emphasized his convention issue according to 
the part of the country he was speaking in. The Democrats 
claimed that during the campaign in the east he touched lightly 
on the convention issue, but in the west he favored a free, 
open, unrestricted convention which would change the basis 
of representation in the Senate. Although Kerr denied that he 
changed his attitude on the basis and claimed that he and Reid 
occupied the same position on this question, it is probable that 
he modified his statement according to the sections in which he 
was speaking.^" Kerr took the position that if the majority of 
the people desired that a convention be called that it was the 

°' Weekly North Carolina Standard, May 19, 1852; Raleigh Register, May 
19, 1852. 
" Ibid. 
''' Raleigh Register, June 5-8, 1852; North Carolina Standard, June 5-8, 1852. 

Manhood Suffrage in N^oetii Carolina 67 

duty of the governor to issue the call for the convention, de- 
spite the constitutional provision that a two-thirds vote of the 
legislature was necessary. He was severely criticised by the 
Democrats for this stand. ^^ 

The election of 1852 shows that there was a clear split in 
the Whig party over the convention issue. In the western 
counties fusion candidates were chosen in several instances, 
and these were pledged to vote for open convention. Reid 
obtained his largest gain in the western counties, however, and 
this shows that the Democrats as a rule stayed by the party. 
Reid was elected by the safe majority of 5,500, and the Demo- 
crats obtained a large majority of the representatives in the 
General Assembly. ^^ It seemed that it was practically certain 
that the manhood suffrage amendment would receive the two- 
thirds majority necessary to make it a part of the constitution. 
Governor Reid, in his annual message to the legislature, stated 
that the equal suffrage bill had been passed by three-fifths of 
the last legislature and urged that the necessary two-thirds 
majority be given in the assembly of 1852-3. He stated his 
objections to a convention, and opposed all changes in the 
basis and all agitation concerning such changes.^*' 

Despite the favorable outlook for the free suffrage amend- 
ment, opposition quickly developed in the assembly of 1852. It 
seems that, by accident, the opponents of the manhood suf- 
frage amendment had a majority of the committee on constitu- 
tional reform in the House of Commons. This committee re- 
ported against the equal suffrage amendment, but a minority 
report of the same committee submitted a set of preambles and 
resolutions, tracing the history of the bill from its conception 
and providing for the submitting of the proposition to the 
electorate after it had received the constitutional two-thirds 
majority.^i On Tuesday November 23, 1852, this minority 
report passed the House of Commons on the third reading 
without debate, two-thirds of the whole membership voting for 
it. Opposition in the Senate came entirely from the Whigs, 
while every Democrat who voted and a few Whigs supported 

^ Weekly North Carolina Standard, June 2, August 4, 1852. 

=» Ibid., August 18, 1852. 

«" IVeeklv North Carolina Standard, August 20, 1852. 

«i Ibid., November 20, 1852. 

68 HiSTOEiCAL Papers 

the measure. The bill was defeated the first time it came up 
because many Whigs refused to vote either for or against it.'^^ 
A reconsideration was moved, and a vote was taken on De- 
cember 13. The bill was defeated by a vote of 33 for, to 15, 
against it. Since the total representation in the Senate was 
fifty, a two-thirds vote would have required 33 1-3 votes in 
favor of the amendment. W. N. Edwards, of Warren, 
Speaker of the Senate and a Democrat, had the privilege 
of voting, but refused to cast his ballot either for or against 
the measure — on the ground that, even though a Democrat, he 
had always opposed equal suffrage and had been elected to his 
position as a compromise candidate because of his known op- 
position to the amendment. Thus it was that manhood suffrage 
was delayed for another two years for the lack of one-third of 
a vote. The odium of the defeat of this measure rested upon 
the Whigs because all Democrats voted for the bill, except 
Edwards who voted neither way; while only six Whigs voted 
for the amendment and fifteen against it.^^ 

After the failure of the equal suffrage measure in the Sen- 
ate, Messrs. Hill and Berry, originators of the bill in the Com- 
mons, attempted to have the amendment reconsidered, in hopes 
of getting at least a three-fifths majority. This was necessary 
because the constitution provided that an amendment had to 
pass by three-fifths and two-thirds vote in two successive 
assemblies. The Commoners had, however, lost confidence in 
the legislative method of amendment and refused to pass the 
bill by three-fifths majority, although they had recently passed 
it by a two-thirds vote. The count stood 64 pro and 34 con, 
whereas 72 would have been necessary to pass.^'* Thus the 
work of two years' legislative discussion and action was lost, 
and the manhood suffrage amendment had to start again at 
the place it had been in 1850. 

The manhood suffrage issue came up again in the campaign 
of 1854. By this time the western Whigs had almost given up 
hope of getting a convention to change the basis in the Senate. 
Also the east and west had agreed on the matter of internal im- 
provements, and the grievance which had led the west to favor 

»= Ibid.. December 8, 1852. 
^ Ibid., December 11, 1852. 
<^ Ibid., December 15, 1852. 

Manhood Suffrage in North Carolina 69 

a change in the basis had been removed /'•'> Even after this 
obstacle to amendment by legislative action had been partly- 
removed, the Whigs could not bring themselves openly to fa- 
vor manhood suffrage by legislative enactment. The issue had 
been originated by the Democrats, and this alone was enough 
to condemn it in the eyes of the Whigs ; so we find the plat- 
form of this party in 1854 declaring that the people desired 
certain changes in the constitution and favoring that these 
changes be made in a convention having the power to change 
any part of the constitution except the basis of representation. 
No mention was made of free suffrage, as such, in the plat- 
form. Alfred Dockery was the Whig nominee for governor.^""' 

The position taken by the Whig party in advocating a con- 
vention which could not change the basis aroused in the west- 
ern wing of the party some opposition. In this section the 
desire for the white basis was not entirely dead. There was a 
movement to repudiate the article of the Whig platform which 
dealt with limiting the convention, and this movement culmi- 
nated in a meeting held at Asheville in April, 1854. Delegates 
from some of the western counties met, and resolved that the 
state legislature could not restrict a sovereign convention, and 
that any convention called must have the power to change any 
feature of the constitution.'^" This dissatisfaction in the west 
crippled the Whig party at the very beginning of the cam- 

The Democrats, in 1854, nominated Thomas Bragg for 
governor and adopted a platform favoring free suffrage by 
legislative enactment and opposing any change in the basis. "^^ 
In the canvass the two candidates took almost the same po- 
sition on the free suffrage issue. Both opposed a change in 
the basis of representation, and both favored manhood suf- 
frage. They differed in the manner of bringing about the neces- 
sary constitutional change. Dockery favored the convention 
method, and Bragg advocated the legislative enactment scheme. 
Bragg argued that a convention must be sovereign, and there- 
fore, it could change the basis. He emphasized the danger of 

^Raleigh Register, April 30, 1856. 

^ North Carolina Standard, March 1, 1854; Raleigh Register. February 23, 

^'' North Carolina Standard, April 19, 1854. 

"^ Ibid., April 22, 1854; Raleigh Register, June 3, 1854. 

70 Historical Papers 

calling any convention, claiming that the west would surely 
change the basis. He also called attention to the fact that 
there was no constitutional requirement that would make a 
convention submit its work to the people; whereas the legis- 
lature was forced to submit an amendment to the electorate 
before it could become a part of the constitution. Dockery 
maintained that his method was more democratic and eco- 
nomical, would give a much needed general revision to the 
constitution, raise that document above party politics, and pre- 
vent politicians from riding into office on questions of consti- 
tutional reform. *^^ In this canvass the Democratic candidate 
was successful by a safe majority, and the Democrats returned 
a majority of the members of the Assembly. 

When the legislature of 1854 convened, Reid was still 
governor, and he continued to work for manhood suffrage. 
In his message of that year he again strongly recommended 
the amendment. He pointed out that fifty thousand men were 
being deprived of the privilege of voting for members of the 
Senate, and that a large number of those deprived of this 
franchise possessed land of greater value than the required 
fifty acres at an average price. In the Senate of 1854 the old 
proposition of holding an election to ascertain whether or not 
the people wanted a convention was introduced by ex-Gov- 
ernor Graham, and there was some discussion of the matter.'^ *^ 
Messrs. Graham, Gilmer, and Haughton supported the elec- 
tion proposal, while Hoke and Thomas spoke in favor of the 
legislative method. The debate was important because it was 
a serious question in the minds of some of the senators as to 
whether it would be better to keep up the fight for amendment 
by legislative enactment, which had failed for six years 
straight, or to yield to the persistent Whig demand for a con- 

Early in 1855 Bragg went into office, and in his inaugural 
address he urged that the suffrage amendment be passed by 
the three-fifths majority. Boyd had already introduced in the 
Senate a bill very similar to the one which had been proposed 
in 1850-1. The proposition was discussed freely, and some of 

"^ Ibid.. July 15, 1854; Raleigh Register, June 3, 1854. 

''"Raleigh Register, November 15, 1854. 

'''^ North Carolina Standard, December 18, 1854. 

Manhood Suffrage in Noktii Carolina 71 

the opponents of the legislative enactment claimed that the 
measure as proposed would allow unnaturalized foreigners to 
vote. This fear of the immigrant element in politics was a re- 
sult of the Know Nothing movement, which was at this time 
coming into prominence in national politics. The doctrine of 
the new party was summarized in the words "America for 
Americans," and it desired a restriction of immigration. Mr. 
Haughton proposed an amendment which would remedy this 
objection, and it was adopted by a close vote. The Democrats 
seemed to have adopted this amendment to the bill, not be- 
cause they deemed it necessary, but rather to quiet the 
criticism of the opposition. Other amendments were voted 
down, and the bill passed its final reading by a vote of 35 to 
15, this being five more than the required three-fifths ma- 

This free suffrage bill which had passed the Senate was 
taken up in the House toward the end of January. On its 
first reading the amendment passed by a vote of 89 to 18. The 
position of the Whigs is very well shown by this vote. There 
were 29 Whigs in the House, and 18 of these made up the 
entire opposition. Most of these Whigs voted against man- 
hood suffrage merely because they did not like the manner in 
which it was being given to them, or at least this was their 
pretended reason. Some members of the House did not think 
that the Senate had completely settled the question of unnat- 
uralized foreigners voting; and Mr. Mebane offered an amend- 
ment to the constitutional amendment stating: "Nothing here- 
in shall be construed to allow unnaturalized foreigners to 
vote." The majority thought that there was no danger of 
foreigners voting under the law as it stood, and the Mebane 
amendment was rejected.'^ The bill passed its other readings in 
the House by a large majority and was ordered to be enrolled 
on February 1. The policy of the Democrats of the House of 
Commons was to allow the Whigs to do all the speaking and 
to propose all the amendments, while the Democrats kept quiet 
and voted down amendments systematically. The Whigs em- 
bodied their idea in the form of amendment to the original 

'- Weeklv North Carolina Standard, January 31, 1855. 
''^Ibid., January 31, 1855. 

72 HiSTOKiCAL Papers 

bill. This proposition was to call a convention of the people. 
The original Whig proposal was amended so as to prevent any 
convention called from changing the basis, and so as to make 
a two-thirds vote of each house necessary for its enactment. 
This proposition of the Whigs was defeated by a party vote.'-* 

The act as passed by the legislature of 1855 stated that 
many voters were disfranchised by the free-hold qualification 
and amended the third section of the first article of the con- 
stitution so as to read : "Every white man of the age of twen- 
ty-one years, being a native or naturalized citizen of the United 
States and who has been an inhabitant of the state for twelve 
months immediately preceding the day of any election and 
shall have paid public taxes, shall be entitled to vote for a 
member of the Senate for the district in which he resides." 
A second section of the bill required the Governor to publish 
the measure in ten papers of the state six months before the 
next election. Before the bill could become a part of the consti- 
tution it had to be passed by two-thirds of the next legislature, 
and finally ratified by the people in a special election."^ As 
required by the constitution, the proposed free sufifrage amend- 
ment was published six months before the election of 1856, 
and this question was again an issue in the campaign of that 

Since 1850 the Whig party in national affairs, as well as in 
North Carolina, had been becoming steadily weaker. The po- 
sition of the party on the compromise of 1850 had practically 
killed the party as a national political organization. It still had 
strength, however, when the Kansas-Nebraska bill was intro- 
duced in congress in 1854. The remnant of the party split over 
this measure, the southern members favoring it with the Dem- 
ocrats and the northern wing bitterly opposing it. After such 
a union of southern Whigs and Democrats on the slavery issue, 
it was natural to expect that the two parties in North Carolina 
would merge into one. But party bitternesses and differences 
of opinion on other matters were too intense. North Carolina 
Whigs sought temporary shelter in the ranks of the new Know 
Nothing party. The Whigs of North Carolina carried into 

''* North Carolina Standard, February 7, 1855. 

" Weekly North Carolina Standard, February 5, 18SS. 

Manhood Suffrage in North Carolina 73 

their new party most of their ideas on state pohtics, and among 
these was opposition to free suffrage by legislative enactment. 
The new party lasted through the campaign of 1856, but the 
Know Nothing principles of opposition to immigrants and 
Catholics had no application to North Carolina where there 
was no great number of foreigners. Hence the enthusiasm 
for the new party soon waned, and finding that it was not as 
strong as the old Whig organization, the Whigs after 1857 
returned to their old party nameJ^ 

The Democratic candidate for governor in 1856 was Bragg, 
who was running for re-election. The Know Nothings nomi- 
nated Gilmer, who as a Whig had been prominent in his op- 
position to manhood suffrage by legislative enactment. He 
had voted against the bill of the Democrats in the Assemblies 
of 1848, 1850, 1852, and 1854 and had fought strongly for a 
convention.'*^ He was one of the forty politicians who had 
signed the western address, and who had tried in vain to split 
the Whig and Democratic parties. '" The convention which 
nominated Gilmer declared in its platform : "Whereas there 
exist various and conflicting opinions among Whigs and 
Democrats both as to the propriety of amending the consti- 
tution, as well as to the manner and extent to which amend- 
ment should be made : Resolved, — that in order that the para- 
mount principles of Americanism may not be trammeled in the 
ensuing contest by vexed state questions made up by former 
political organizations, the American party, eschewing sec- 
tional issues in the state as well as in the Union, declare their 
purpose of abiding by and maintaining the representative basis 
of the present constitution. "'^ In the canvass Gilmer took the 
traditional Whig attitude as to free suffrage. He favored the 
abolition of the qualification by means of a convention and op- 
posed a change in the basis. He claimed that he was a better 
free suffrage man than Bragg, because his plan would have pro- 
cured the amendment long ago."^ He, true to the western 
address, favored amendments other than free suft'rage, such 

T5 wagstaff, State Rights and Political Parties in North Carolina, pp. 90-6; 
also Cole, Whig Party in the South. 

'« Weekly North Carolina Standard. April 3, 1852. 

" See above, pp. 15, 16, 17. 

" Weekly Raleigh Register, April 16, 1856. 

''^Weekly North Carolina Standard, May 7, 1856; and Raleigh Register, Tune 
14, 1857. 

74 Historical Papers 

as an increased tax on slaves and the election of judges by the 
people. The Democrats urged that, because Gilmer had in the 
western address favored the white basis, he was still in favor 
of it. The accusation hurt the American candidate among the 
conservative slave holders of the east, and he made a poor race 
in consequence. Bragg favored only one change in the con- 
stitution and oppposed the convention proposition. The Demo- 
cratic candidate was re-elected by the unausually large ma- 
jority of 12,594 votes, and a Democratic majority of forty on 
joint ballot in the Assembly assured the passage of the free 
suffrage amendment by the two-thirds majority required by the 

The free suffrage bill was introduced in the Senate by 
Boyd in November of 1856.^^ The bill proposed stated the 
fact that the amendment had been passed by three-fifths 
of the last assembly. It provided that the governor 
should open the polls within eighty days after the bill 
had passed by a two-thirds vote, and that thus the will 
of the people as to its acceptance or rejection should be 
ascertained. The bill further provided that if the amend- 
ment was adopted and ratified, it should be enrolled 
as part of the constitution by the Secretary of State.^^ 
The Governor's message, coming out a few days after the in- 
troduction of this bill, urged that it be passed. By the end of 
November the Boyd bill had passed its three readings in the 
Senate by considerably more than the constitutional majority. 
In the the House the votes in its favor were practically unani- 
mous, the count being 109 to 4 at one time and 93 to 5 at an- 
other. There was one attempt at amendment in the House, 
Thomas proposing to limit the taxation of land per acre to 
twelve-fiftieths of that on polls, as a guarantee that the land- 
holders, who were being deprived by the amendment of what 
they considered their rights, would be protected against ex- 
cessive taxation. ^^ The proposal of Thomas was declared out 
of order by the Speaker, and his ruling was sustained by the 
House. Mr. D. F. Caldwell of Guilford entered his solemn 

>•» Ibid., August 20, 1856. 

" Ibid.. November 22, 1856. 

"-= Ibid., November 29, 1856. 

'' Raleigh Register, January 14, 1857. 

Manhood Suffrage in Noetii Carolina 75 

protest against passing the bill, doing this in the face of over- 
whelming opposition. ^'*^ He had opposed manhood suffrage 
since its inception in 1848. 

The bill as finally passed was essentially the same as the 
measure of 1850, except that it contained a history of the pass- 
age of the bill at various times. It provided that the amend- 
ment abolishing the free-hold requirement should be submitted 
to the people for ratification on the first Thursday in August 
of 1857, sixty days notice being given by the Governor. ^^ 
The governor's proclamation as to the election was duly pub- 
lished on September 12, 1857, and later an announcement was 
issued stating that the amendment had been ratified by the 
people at the polls, the vote being 50,075 for ratification and 
19,382 against. The amendment was then declared to be a 
part of the constitution of North Carolina. ^° 

With the vote as overwhelmingly for ratification as it was, 
it is difficult to draw any conclusions as to the sectional di- 
vision of the votes. A list of the .eastern and central counties 
with their votes shows that there were cast in all 21,100 ballots 
and of these 14,114 were for and 6,986 against ratification. 
This ratio of two to one is somewhat behind the vote 
for the whole State, which was nearly three to one. In 
the extreme west we find Cherokee County on the one 
hand with a vote of 814 for ratification and only four 
against, while Craven in the extreme east was about 
evenly divided, 216 for and 263 against. ^'^ From this com- 
parison we may conclude that much of the opposition to free 
suffrage came from the eastern slave and land-holding 
aristocracy. The history of the bill during its passage through 
the legislature would contradict this conclusion, but we must 
remember that the west was really very democratic and only 
opposed manhood suffrage in order to use that issue to obtain 
a constitutional convention in which it hoped to enact amend- 
ments that would wipe out such undemocratic, or rather anti- 
western, features of the constitution as the taxation basis of 
apportionment in the Senate. 

*j Weekly North Carolina Standard, December 3, 1856. 
^ Weeklv North Carolina Standard, December 7, 1856. 
^Ibid., 'September 2, 1857. 
^nbid., August 12, 1857. 

76 Historical Papers 

From this we are led to the conclusion that the manhood 
suffrage movement was not entirely as democratic as its sup- 
porters pretended it to be. The measure was supported by the 
progressive Democrats in the west as well as the reactionary 
Democrats of the east, and the continual demands of the west 
for fairer representation and more democratic government 
were ignored. The favoring of free suffrage by the conserva- 
tive element of the Democratic party is to be understood as an 
attempt to appease rather than to satisfy the westerners. The 
Whigs of the west resisted and demanded a convention be- 
cause they preferred to be satisfied rather than appeased. 

With the nature of the manhood suffrage movement well 
in mind, we may now notice the effects of this movement upon 
the later history of North Carolina. The free suffrage move- 
ment was mainly the cause of the fall of the Whig party and 
the rise of the Democratic party into power. Such an issue as 
manhood suffrage was necessarily popular ; and therefore 
gained votes for the party supporting it. Moreover this issue 
brought dissension between the inharmonious elements of the 
Whig party. Free suffrage was too radical for the conserva- 
tives and too conservative for the radicals ; so the Whigs were 
weakened by internal strife, and the Democrats gained a lease 
of power which lasted until 1862. The result of this Democratic 
supremacy was important for the history of North Carolina. 
The agitation for manhood suffrage had liberalized the party, 
and it helped to make liberal ideas triumphant. As has been 
shown, the movement for free suffrage was not the most demo- 
cratic one possible ; but it was. nevertheless, a very advanced 
stand to be taken by an organization which had been as con- 
servative as the Democratic party of 1836-1848. Manhood 
suffrage gave its advocates a progressive issue, which drew to 
the party the young men and which made it popular in the 
west. The result was a liberalization of the Democratic poli- 
cies which made itself felt in the attitude of this party towards 
internal improvements and educational development. Previous 
to 1848 the Democratic party was strongly opposed to all in- 
ternal improvements. Its members often refused to vote for 
money for railroads, plank roads, schools, or other state insti- 
tutions. In 1848 only a small minority of the party was in 

Manhood Suffrage in ]N'ortii Cakolina 77 

favor of internal improvements, and nearly all of this was in 
the west. In this year there was a threatened division within 
the party over the issue.*'^'^ After this organization had become 
liberalized through the influence of the free suffrage move- 
ment, we find its members voting large sums for internal im- 
provements and education. 

The history of the manhood suffrage movement in North 
Carolina is typical, in respect to the time required to accom- 
plish the change, of many movements in the state. It took our 
politicians nine years of constant agitation to decide to abolish 
such a palpable evil as the free-hold requirement for suffrage 
in senatorial elections. Instances of similar slowness of action 
are plentiful in the history of the state. 



Bassett— Suffrage in North Carolina. (Report of the 
American Historical Association, 1895-1896.) 

Boyd — Antecedents of the Convention of 1835. {South 
Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. IX.) 

Boyd— North Carolina on the Eve of Secession. (Report 
of the American Historical Association, 1910.) 

Cole— Whig Party in the South. 

Raper— North Carolina, A Study in Colonial Government. 

Wagstaff — State Rights and Political Parties in North 
Carolina. (Johns Hopkins University Studies, series XXIV, 
Nos. 7-8.) 


Colonial Records of North Carolina. 

Correspondence of David S. Reid. (MSS., North Caro- 
lina Historical Commission.) 

Legislative Documents of North Carolina, 1848-1857. 
Memoirs of W. W. Holden. (John Lawson Monographs, 

Vol. II.) 

Pamphlets: Speech of David Caldwell, (1851) ; The Con- 
stitution of North Carolina, (1851); The Western Address, 

«s Memoirs of W. W. Holden, p. 7. 

78 Historical Papers 

Poore — Constitutions and Charters. 
Raleigh Register, semi-weekly, (1848-1857). 
Raleigh Register, daily, (1851-1852). 
Raleigh Standard, semi-weekly, (1848-1857). 
Raleigh Standard, weekly, (1850-1856). 
Thorpe — State and Federal Constitutions. 

Some Phases of Reconstruction in Wilmington 
and the County of New Hanover * 

By Bryant Whitlock Ruark 


The Cape Fear section of North Carohna has long been 
regarded as one full of historical interest. The citizens of 
\\'ilmington and the surrounding country responded nobly to 
the Revolutionary cause in 1775, and when North Carolina 
decided to cast her fortune with the other Southern States in 
1861, New Hanover County again ralHed to arms in defense 
of her home and people. 

The people of the Cape Fear section were champions of 
the South's cause from the very beginning of the secession 
movement. The Wilmington Journal was among the first 
newspapers of the State to favor radical action. It took such 
a stand when sentiment as a whole was overwhelmingly in 
favor of the Union. ^ Geo. Davis attended the Peace Confer- 
ence in Washington City but returned an advocate of seces- 
sion.- Mr. Hamilton, in his work on Reconstruction in North 
Carolina, is authority for the statement that the secession 
movement of the state as a whole started in Wilmington. The 
first "States Rights" meeting was held there and from this 
developed the sentiment that led to similar meetings through- 
out the state. ^ 

In ante-bellum days, Wilmington was a very important 
port, being easily the largest naval stores market in the United 
States. A large trade in naval stores, timber and cotton 
flourished with the West Indies ; and from them were received 
in return such articles as sugar, molasses, and cofifee. The 
town also enjoyed a brisk trade with the North and with 
Europe. Steamship lines to Fayetteville brought it in touch 
with the upper Cape Fear, and coastwise vessels known as 
"Corn Crackers" were a means of intercourse with the north- 

* In this essay, after the Introduction, the following topics are discussed: — 
Education, The Court System, The City of Wilmington, Social and Economic 
Conditions, and Political Affairs. 

^ Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina, p. 14. 
^ Ibid., p. 34, note. 

' Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina; also Wagstaff, State Rights and 
Political Parties in North Carolina, p. 127. 

80 Historical Papers 

eastern part of the state. There were ample facihties for 
commerce with Charleston and other cities. The town en- 
joyed good banking facilities and advantages, and altogether 
conditions worked in those days so as to give Wilmington a 
prominent position as a commercial center.'* 

Life in the Cape Fear section was distinctive. An aristocrat- 
ic element was introduced by the coming of the Moore family 
at the close of the Tuscorora War.^ Here were to be found 
large plantations with the stately homes of the owners and 
well-arranged slave buildings. The slaves outnumbered the 
whites. Social distinctions were marked and were scrupu- 
lously observed. One of the effects of the Civil War was to 
wipe away the social ideals and observances that formerly 
prevailed. The necessity for all to struggle for a livelihood 
caused many social differences to disappear.'^ However the 
aristocracy of the Cape Fear was not only one of land and 
of wealth. There was also an aristocracy of brains, and from 
such families as the Moores, Waddells, Davises, and many 
others came men of rare ability who played a prominent part 
in the events of later years. The occasion of war and the 
struggle itself not only caused a breaking up of the large plan- 
tations and the disruption of aristocratic life, but also devel- 
oped the talents of gifted men. 

Prior to the decision of North Carolina to join the Con- 
federacy, the people of New Hanover and adjoining territory 
set to work to perfect military organizations. The principal 
military companies in the town were the Wilmington Light In- 
fantry, formed in 1853, and the German Volunteers, organized 
about the same time. The latter was composed entirely of Ger- 
mans and was the only organization of its kind in the state.''' 
The former consisted of 39 men and officers, and the latter 
numbered all told 34. Other companies were the Wilmington 
Rifle Guards, numbering 27 men ; Cape Fear Artillery, com- 
posed of 20; and the Cape Fear Rifles consisting of about the 
same number.^ These were known as the Reserves of New 

* Waddell, Some Memories of My Life, pp. 40, 41. 

''Connor, Cornelius Harnett, p. 11; also Ashe, History of North Carolina, I, 
ch. 15. 

" Waddell, Some Memories of My Life, pp. 42, 43. 

' Ibid., p. 45. 

" Clark's Regimental History, Vol. V, tassii>i. 

Eeconstritction in New Hanover County 81 

Hanover. The Wilmington Horse Artillery troop was chartered 
by the legislature in 1861."' All were strengthened as the war 
fever increased. 

Early in January, 1861, a committee of Wilmington citizens 
visited Governor Ellis and asked him to seize Forts Johnston 
and Caswell, two Federal Arsenals, at the mouth of the Cape 
Fear River, in the name of the state. The latter was important 
because it commanded the entrance. But he refused. There- 
fore, on the morning of January 10, 1861, several citizens of 
Wilmington, organized as a Committee of Safety under the 
name of "The Cape Fear Minute Men," and under the com- 
mand of John J. Heddrick, captured Fort Johnston. That 
same afternoon in company with S. D. Thruston, captain of the 
"Smithville Guards," and a number of the citizens of Smith- 
ville, now Southport, they took possession of Fort Caswell. 
Governor Ellis telegraphed to Washington to know if the 
Federal government intended to garrison the forts. He receiv- 
ed the reply that this would be done when it became necessary. 
Thruston was obliged to give up the forts as it was thought they 
had been captured by the state militia, but this was a mistake. 
However, they were recaptured by the Wilmington Light In- 
fantry, the German Volunteers, and the Wilmington Rifle 
Guards under the command of Colonel John h. Cant well, on 
April 16, 1861.10 

In addition to the Reserves, New Hanover County sent 
men to various regiments. Company H of the Fortieth 
Regiment was organized at Wilmington in 1861, and con- 
sisted principally of Irishmen. Company A of the Forty- 
first Regiment, known as the Rebel Rangers, consisting of 163 
men, came from New Hanover County. It has not been possi- 
ble to determine the number of men sent to the front, but 
many able-bodied men left and never returned, leaving those 
dependent on them reduced to trying circumstances. ^^ And 
the fact that many bread winners failed to return accounts in 
part for the dire economic struggle of the period of recon- 

»Laws, 1860-61, ch. 101. 

"Rebellion Records, Series I, Vol. 51, Part 1, p. 2. 

" New Hanover men composed Companies A and C of the First N. C. Regi- 
ment, Co.'s D, F, and N, of the Third, Co. C of the Seventh, Co. F of the Eighth, 
and the whole of the Fifty-first Regiment. 

82 HisTOKicAL Papers 

In order to effect adequate coast defenses, there was chosen 
for the town of Wilmington a Committee of Safety in the latter 
part of February, 1861. Members of this were John C. McRae, 
who was later agent abroad for the State, W. A. Wright and 
J. D. Bellamy. A meeting was held April 16, 1862, to raise 
money for the defense of the river, and although no figures are 
obtainable, a substantial sum was provided. Early in 1862 
General W. H. C. Whiting was assigned to the command of 
ihe district of the Cape Fear, and he together with Colonel 
S. L. Fremont, whom the Committee of Safety had appointed 
Superintendent of Coast Defenses, undertook to make ade- 
quate provision for protection. In a letter to General Ben S. 
Cooper,^2 Whiting states that Wilmington was very much ex- 
posed and asked for additional material to erect batteries at 
Masonboro, near Wilmington, and New Inlet, near Fort 
Fisher, at the Cape Fear and Bald Head Landing, at the south- 
ern end of Bald Head Island, and at Forts Caswell and John- 
ston, at the mouth of the Cape Fear. He also asked for a 
reserve of 1,000 men. There were only three batteries erected : 
one each at Oak Island, situated near Fort Caswell, Zeke's 
Island, just south of Fort Fisher, and Confederate Point. ^^ 
Whiting was constantly faced with the problem of protecting 
the coast with inadequate means, and stringent measures were 
resorted to in order to carry on the work. For instance, he 
called on Governor Vance for iron from the Wilmington, 
Charlotte, and Rutherfordton Railroad Company to complete 
the casements at Caswell.^^ He made frequent calls on Gover- 
nor Vance for negroes to work on the defenses and was granted 
about five hundred.^^ These, however, had to be returned to 
their owners in time for the harvests, and their withdrawal 
necessitated a call upon the residents of the county for manual 
labor. To this situation was added a disagreeable condition 
brought about by a conflict between the civil and military au- 
thorities. Minors who had been pressed into service made 
application to the courts for writ of habeas corpus in order 
that they might be relieved from service. Quite a deal of 

^2 Rebellion Records, Series I, Vol. 51, part 2, p. 83. 

" These were in addition to the regular fortifications of Forts Johnston, Cas- 
well, and Fisher. 

" Vance MSS. Letter-book, Vol. 1, p. 84. 
^'^ Ibid., p. 162. 

Reconstkuction in New Hanover County 83 

correspondence passed between Vance and Whiting on this 
point. Later on another source of difficulty arose. The State 
owned some salt works at Masonboro Sound. Whiting made 
the charge that the state salt workers were giving information 
relative to the defenses. In July, 1864, he asserted that two- 
thirds of them were members of a traitorous organization 
known as "H. O. A.", which was also very strong in Randolph 
County.^^ In 1863, the withdrawal of the negroes demanded 
that additional forces be granted. Whiting, who was put in 
charge of the District of the Cape Fear, created in 1863, called 
on Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War, for troops. i''' 
He also asked Vance for four or five regiments. ^^ Five thou- 
sand troops were sent. In September, 1864, Whiting applied 
to General Lee for forces, and received a reply that he must 
depend on the state forces. Practically all of the state's troops 
were withdrawn by this time, and affairs had come to a crisis. 
In October of 1864, there were only twelve to fifteen hundred 
men to man the defenses.^'' The above instances illustrate the 
lack of harmony between the officers in charge and the state 
officials. The former made charges that they were being neg- 
lected, and it was proposed that the southeastern counties join 
South Carolina in order that they might have proper coast 
defense.-^ In addition to this, great disorder prevailed be- 
cause of lack of proper police regulations, and a stagnation of 
business resulted from the unsettled conditions. Moreover, in 
the fall of 1862, the town of Wilmington suffered much from 
an epidemic of yellow fever. Thus war, pestilence, and famine 
combined to bring misery to the people. 

Upon the proclamation of Lincoln issued April 19, 1861, 
declaring a blockade of Southern ports, measures were at once 
taken to close the port of Wilmington, the natural advantages 
of which for blockade running were clearly evident. The first 
blockader was placed on the Cape Fear River in July, 1861, and 
first and last thirty or more were used to guard the river. 
Wilmington became the chief cotton port for the Confederacy. 

" Vance MSS. Letter-book, Vol. 2, p. 196, contains only a reference to the 
"H. O. A." The writer has been unable to obtain further information. 

"Vance MSS. Letter-book, Vol. 1, p. 350. 

" Vance MSS. Letter-book, Vol. 1, p. ill. 

1" Vance MSS. Letter-book, Vol. 2, p. 273. 

-" Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina, p. 44. Wilmington Journal, 
September 25, 1862. 

84: Historical Papers 

The "Corn Crackers" had gone, as had also the hne of steamers 
between New York and Wilmington and Charleston and Wil- 
mington. But cotton compresses were kept busy, and a fleet 
of blockade runners carried the staple from Wilmington to 
Nassau, five hundred and seventy miles distant, and to Ber- 
muda, six hundred and seventy-four miles from Wilmington. 
In return they brought ammunition and provisions such as 
salt, sugar, and molasses. Relative to blockade running, Mr. 
James Sprunt, purser of the Confederate blockade runner 
I/illian, says : 

"In the early stage of the war, blockade running was car- 
ried on in part by sailing vessels ; for the blockade was not 
yet rigorous, and speed on the part of the venturesome had 
not become essential to success. The proclamation of the 
blockade had suspended the legitimate commerce, and the 
owners of the cheap sailing craft which faced the extra hazard 
of war, had, for a time, little to lose and much to gain in the 
venture. The inward cargoes were less valuable than those 
brought by later steam vessels, and they consisted of such 
necessary commodities as salt, sugar, molasses and other cheap- 
er supplies. These cargoes were not then openly declared 
from neutral countries for a blockaded port, their ostensible 
destination being the markets of the North ; and when by 
chance an enterprising shipper suspiciously near the Carolina 
coast, was overhauled by a cruiser, he was always ready with a 
plausible story of adverse winds and false reckonings. For a 
time such cases were allowed to withdraw with a warning. 
In later months all suspicious craft detected in the act of ap- 
proaching a blockaded port were seized in the name of the 
United States, and sent in charge of the prize crew to a con- 
venient Northern port for adjudication, which invariably re- 
sulted in their condemnation and sale."-^ 

In the autumn of 1862 there occurred in Wilmington a 
severe epidemic of yellow fever. This disease was brought 
from Nassau by the blockade steamer "Kate" and was the re- 
sult of a laxity in quarantine regulations.-- Mr. Sprunt says: 
"The good old town was sadly marred by the plagues of war 

-''James Sprunt, Tales of the Cape Fear Blockade, pp. 41, 42; also, IViltnington 
Journal, September 12, 1862. 

-^ Ibid., pp. 11-15; Waddell, Some Memories of My Life. 

ReconstkuctiojSt in New Hanover County 85 

and of pestilence and famine ; four hundred and forty-seven 
of a population, reduced by flight to five thousand, had been 
carried off by the epidemic of yellow fever brought from 
Nassau by the steamer Kate ; and hundreds more of the young- 
er generation, who gave up their lives in the Confederate cause 
had been brought to their final resting place in Oakdale Ceme- 
tery. Suspension of the civil law, neglect of sanitary pre- 
caution, the removal of nearly all of the famine stricken 
women and children to safer places in the interior, and the 
coming of speculators to the auction sales of the blockade 
runners' merchandise, as well as of lawless and depraved 
characters attracted by the camps and shipping, had quite 
changed the aspect of the whole community." 

According to the Wilmington Journal, there were reported 
from September 19 to November 15, fifteen hundred and five of yellow fever and six hundred and eighty deaths in 
Wilmington and vicinity.-^ Strenuous measures were taken 
to combat the ravages of the plague. The city employed a 
corps of physicians. Nurses were sent from Asheville, Charles- 
ton, and other points. Fayetteville, Charleston, Montgomery, 
Ala., and Asheville sent contributions in money and goods. 
The fever raged from September 19 to November 15, and 
some days as many as sixty-four deaths were reported. Differ- 
ent organizations of the city raised funds, and, in one instance, 
a body of Jewish citizens subscribed eleven hundred dollars in 
five minutes. With the coming of cold weather the disease 
began to abate.-'* 

Such were some of the conditions in Wilmington and ad- 
jacent country from 1861-1865, during the time of strife. War, 
famine, and pestilence dealt their deadly blows. All the while 
the question of adequate coast defenses was harrowing the 
minds of those in command. The beginning of the end came 
when, toward the end of the war, the Federals turned their 
guns on Fort Fisher. On the morning of January 13, 1865, 
the bombardment began and for three days continued. To 
illustrate the strait to which the Confederates were reduced, 
an instance told by an uncle of the writer in the Confederate 

^^ Wilmington Journal, November 20, 1862; also, Waddell, Some Memories of 
My Life, p. 55. 

^ Wilmington Journal, November 28, 1862. 

86 Historical Papers 

Army is here given. On the morning of the day before the 
Fort fell, each Confederate soldier was given for his day's al- 
lowance a pint of dry peas. These were soaked in water and 
eaten raw because there was not time for cooking. January 15 
the Fort was captured, and the Federals took possession of the 
town on February 22, 1865.--"' \\'ilmington and the surround- 
ing country then entered upon the reconstruction era, during 
which it was yet to undergo many a dark and dreary ex- 


Naturally the confusion during the war and the period im- 
mediately following caused many of the schools to be closed. 
It was not long, however, before schools began to be re-estab- 
lished. In February of 1866, Hamilton McMillan, a graduate 
of the University of North Carolina, opened a classical and 
scientific school for the instruction of the whites.-^ In ]\Iarch 
of the same year, a school for negroes was set up, and St. 
Paul's Episcopal Church, belonging to white people, was used 
as a school room for negro education.-" 

It was not until 1867 that any appreciable advance took 
place in educational matters. In February, 1867, Mr. J. N. 
Hinton organized the Wilmington High School, a private insti- 
tution with an enrollment of sixty pupils.-^ Negroes were not 
admitted. Closely following, the legislature passed an act to 
incorporate the Wilmington Institute, which institution began 
work on March 15, 1867.29 

Northern and Federal organizations also became active in 
education. In March, 1867, the Soldiers Memorial Society of 
Boston opened a school for the negroes. Two teachers, young 
ladies from the North, were sent to take charge.^" Almost 
simultaneously, the American Unitarian Association and the 
Young Ladies Union Benevolent Society established industrial 
schools for the negroes. Both of these were northern organi- 
zations whose purpose was to educate the negroes of the 

-^ For a contemporary account of the entry of the Union soldiers into the town, 
see Burkhead, L. S., History of the Difficulties of the Pastorate of the Front Street 
Methodist Church, Wilmington, for the year 1865 (Papers of the Trinity College 
Historical Society, Series VIII, pp. 37, 38). 

-" lVilmi>i(jto)i Journal, February 12, 1866. 

=' Ibid., March 15, 1866. 

^Morning Star, February 17, 1867. 

-* IVilmhigtoii Journal, March 1, 1867. 

^Morning Star. March 5, 1867. 

Reconstruction in New Hanover County 87 

South.'*' ^ Their activities were prompted partly by the desire 
to better the condition of the negroes, and partly because of the 
impression that the whites wished to keep them in an ignorant 
condition. In general, these teachers from the North were 
kindly and politely received by the Southern people, yet it is 
true that some of them were not tactful, and friction resulted. 

The initiative by outsiders had a very important effect ; it 
served to stir public spirited citizens to action. Within three 
days of the establishment of the above schools, a committee of 
citizens met and raised $99.50 for a public school for white 
children.-^- This amount was insufficient for immediate action, 
and it was held in trust until further funds could be raised. 
In the following month, the Ladies Benevolent Society, an 
organization whose object was primarily to relieve suffering, 
took a lively interest in the matter. It is interesting to know 
that Mrs. Catherine Kennedy, familiarly called "Mother" 
Kennedy, president of the society at this time, later founded 
the Catherine Kennedy Home for old ladies, and this Home 
still exists in Wilmington and is supported by public sub- 
scriptions. The Ladies Benevolent Society appointed a com- 
mittee of twelve to devise plans for forming a school. ^^ This 
committee acted in conjunction with the mayor of the town, 
with whom the subscription of $99.50 had been deposited. 
This amount was now supplemented by a further subscription 
of $563.00, and a building was erected at the corner of Sixth 
and Orange Streets. A city school was put into operation, and 
thus was carried out the provisions of "An Act authorizing in- 
corporated cities and towns to establish a system of schools," 
which had J^een passed by the Legislature the preceding month 
(March, 1867). ^-t 

In August, 1867, the Unitarian Association of Boston set 
up a free school for white children.-''^ The former schools 
opened by the northern societies had been for the negroes. A 
schoolhouse was built in the Dry Pond section of Wilmington, 
and Misses Amy Bradley and Girish came South to take 
charge. In this connection an instance occurred in which the 

^^Ibid., March 5, 1867. 
^^ Ibid., March 8, 1867. 
^^ Ibid., March 12, 1867. 

^* Morning Star, March 14, 1867; also, Public Laws of North Carolina, 1866-67, 
ch. 14. 

^Morning Star, August 15, 1867. 

88 Historical Papers 

charge that teachers from the North were actuated by personal 
interests received a contradiction. The attendance upon this 
school reached 135; and as two teachers were not sufficient, 
Miss Bradley hired a third teacher out of her own salary. 
Miss Bradley through the aid of Mrs. Heminway, of Boston, 
built the Heminway school for teachers which later became 
the City High School. In the latter part of 1867 there were 
established two church schools, one by St. John's Parish and 
the other by Rev. Mr. Myers of the Jewish Snyagogue. The 
latter was called the Wilmington Collegiate Institute, and in 
addition to the regular courses modern languages were 

Soon the negroes, stirred by the work of others in their 
behalf, became active in education. A body of negroes applied 
for a charter, and, on December 21, 1867, G. W. Price, Thos. 
Rivera, Frederick Brown, Allen Evans, Joseph Mitchell, Heze- 
kiah Reede, John C. Norwood, Alfred Howe and William 
H. B. Brady were created a body corporate under the name of 
the "Wilmington Colored Institute" for the purpose of "es- 
tablishing schools for the education of colored children re- 
siding in the City of Wilmington without discrimination as to 
denomination."^'^ This was the first instance in which colored 
men were created a body corporate under the law of North 
Carolina. It has not been possible to learn the extent of the 
work actually done by this body, but it did establisli one or 
two schools. In July, 1868, Alfred Howe and six others were 
created "A body politic and corporate" under the name and 
style of the "Society of St. Barnabas." This corporation 
was also composed of negroes and had for its object the edu- 
<"ation of the negro youth.^^ There is no record to be obtained 
of any material progress having been made by this body. In 
the same month, the Freedmen's Aid Association of Boston 
built a schoolhouse for negroes, and it is probable that one of 
these two corporations used the building.^^ The establishment 
of the Cape Fear Academy and Colston's High School for 

^'Morniug Star, October 24, 1867. 

" Wilmington Journal, January 1, 1868; Morning Star, January 1, 1868. The 
writer has not been able to find the text of the act here mentioned. The only 
authority is the newspapers. 

"^ Ibid., July 17, 1868. 

'^'Morning Star, July 9, 1868. 

Reconsteuction in New Hanover County 89 

white children in July, 1868, were the last important steps in 
promoting the growth of schools. "*•' 

Reference thus far has been made to the schools of 
the City of Wilmington. An effort to find out in detail 
about those in the county at large prior to ratification of 
the constitution of 1868 was unsuccessful, but an edi- 
torial in the Morning Star, July 16, 1868, indicates that 
there were in the county twenty-seven schools. An act passed 
in 1867 created D. S. Durham, H. E. Carr, S. S. Satch- 
well, T. P. Armstrong, J. S. Hines, Jas. Durham and Calvin 
Hines a body politic, styled "Trustees of Rocky Point Acade- 
my." It was declared unlawful to sell spirituous liquors within 
^hree miles of the schoor house. ^^ 

The Convention of 1868 placed education under the con- 
trol of a central Board. S. S. Ashley, a carpetbagger from 
Massachusetts who had lived in Wilmington, was chosen State 
Superintendent of Public Instruction. The Board reported to 
the Legislature, and, in April, 1869, an act was passed author- 
izing the Board to organize a system of public schools. In 
November, 1869, the superintendency of county schools was 
put in charge of the county commissioners. The county com- 
missioners of New Hanover County took steps to establish 
schools immediately. Precincts were erected and committees 
appointed in each to report. "^^ f\^{^ ^a,s the first definite action 
on record in reference to public schools in the county since the 
office of State Superintendent was made vacant in 1865. How- 
ever, a careful search among the newspaper files during the 
period under consideration failed to give information as to 
further action. 

Other educational factors were the Wilmington Lyceum 
and the Library Association. The former was established im- 
mediately after the war ; the latter had existed before the war 
but was reorganized and materially strengthened. Public de- 
bates, lectures, and dramatic plays were held. Their officers 
were prominent men who gave their time and effort without 
stint, and their activities did much to further the cause of edu- 
cation in this section. Another educational influence was the 

*^ Ibid., July 12, 1868. 

" Private Eaws of North Carolina, 1866-67, cli. 61. 

*^ Morning Star. October 27, 1868. 

90 Historical Papers 

Freedmen's Bureau which estabhshed schools in the South for 
negroes ; I have not been able to find information regarding 
schools established by it in New Hanover County. 


The administration of justice during reconstruction was 
quite a problem. The court system was very much compli- 
cated, and the jurisdictions exercised by various courts often 
indefinite and conflicting. Also, their work was often 
hampered by military interference. Military authority did not 
supersede civil jurisdiction suddenly, but rather by a gradual 

New Hanover, together with Brunswick and Sampson 
Counties, constituted a part of the Fourth Judicial District of 
North Carolina in the Federal District Court System. The 
District Court's jurisdiction did not cover matters peculiarly of 
County interests, and hence is not of much importance in this 
connection. Its jurisdiction extended over crimes committed 
on the high seas, embezzlement or secretion of property be- 
longing to the United States, forgery to deceive a government 
official, violations of internal revenue laws, smuggling, wreck- 
ing, violations of commerce, and similar crimes and misde- 
meanors. The court went into operation upon the revival of 
federal authority just after the war. Its officers during the 
period of our study were Hon. G. W. Brooks, Judge; Darius 
H. Starbuck, District Attorney; and J. H. Nefif, Marshal, 
until 1868 when he became the mayor of Wilmington. ^^ In 
November of 1867, Judge Brooks declared freedom from the 
military authorities, asserted the court's competence to pass 
upon its own jurors, and instructed the marshal to draw up 
the jury lists without distinction as to race or color.^'* It is 
interesting to note, however, that for a period of more than 
two years not a single negro juror sat in this court. 

The administrative business of the County prior to the 
adoption of the Constitution of 1868 was carried on through 
the County Court, the same Court which performed that func- 
tion prior to the war. The court dealt with such matters as 

■" Wilmington Journal, May 5, 1868. 
**Ibid., November 7, 1867. 

Reconstructiox in New Hanover County 91 

are today supervised by the board of County Commissioners.^^ 
Thus it looked after the buikhng of roads, and the erection and 
repair of bridges. In general it had control over county finances, 
both revenues and expenditures. For instance on March 11, 
1S68, the Court appropriated $12,000 to establish a workhouse, 
and it also had the power of granting liquor licenses. It also ex- 
ercised judicial functions in cases of petty crimes, — offenses 
against the public order and others of like nature being within 
its jurisdiction. The court also appointed county inspectors 
for naval stores, cotton, and other products. The chairman of 
this court administered the oath of office to the County officers, 
magistrates, clerk of the County Court, and Superior Court 
Clerks. It had charge of criminal matters, and in the latter 
part of 1866, when disorder was rife, a committee was appoint- 
e.l to confer with the Freedmen's Bureau as to better dis- 
cipline of the negroes. In 1866, a sentence of whipping was im- 
posed on five negroes who had committed petty larceny. When 
this sentence was being carried out by Sheriff Bunting, two 
Federal soldiers entered the court room to arrest him, but the 
chairman would not recognize their verbal authority. The 
contention that the sentence was a continuation of the slave 
code was claimed by the officers as a basis of their action. The 
matter was finally adjusted by Colonel Beadle, the officer then 
in charge of the Freedmen Bureau. ^^ The County Court at 
first had jurisdiction over the county police and over the ap- 
pointment of constables, but these powers were later withdrawn 
and placed in the hands of the military. 

The levy of taxes was also a matter under its care, and, to 
illustrate the principles of taxation, a few examples from the 
tax lists, operative in April, 1866, are here given. Tax on real 
estate was ten cents on the hundred dollar valuation ; the tax on 
the poll was one dollar. In some instances the tax was laid in 
reference to earning power; — thus ferries were taxed one per 
cent on their gross receipts and express companies were taxed 
two and one-half per cent on their gross receipts. Licenses 
were issued to shows, theaters, liquor dealers, and others. 
Amount of goods purchased sometimes served as a basis of as- 
sessment. Merchants were required to pay a tax of one- 

*^ Ibid., March 11, 1868. 

** Wilmington Journal, March, 1866. 

92 HisTOKiCAL Papers 

quarter per cent on purchases, and dealers in vehicles had to 
pay two per cent on their sales. These instances illustrate the 
tax system which prevailed before, and for sometime after, the 
war. State as well as county taxes were included. In general 
county taxes were levied upon the same plan as state taxes. 
The amount of taxes for the year 1867-8 aggregated $50,075.42, 
of which $15,927.96 was due the state. The year following 
county taxes were 33 1-3 per cent higher, it being declared 
that taxes for the ensuing year "Shall be the same as those 
for state purposes by the General Revenue Act now in force 
with one hundred cents per centum on the same additional 
thereto." But even with the increased revenue, making a total 
of $39,236.54, county finances were so administered that the 
county credit was seriously impaired, and bonds of New Han- 
over county sold at eighty-seven cents on the dollar. In July, 
1869, the County Commissioners resolved that, "whereas the 
financial condition of the county did not justify the prompt pay- 
ment of claims, no claims be paid except the coupons which 
might become due on the county bonds. "^^ The County Courts 
of North Carolina were abolished by General Orders, Number 
120, and their unfinished business was ordered to be settled by 
the Superior Courts in April 21, 1868. In 1868 an act was 
passed by the General Assembly to facilitate the transfer of 
business from the county to the Superior Courts. ^^ 

The Provost Court was important. This Court, unlike the 
others, emanated from military authority. It was established 
in March, 1867. In Canby's Special Orders, Number 29, provi- 
sion was made for provost courts for New Hanover, Bruns- 
wick, Bladen, and Columbus Counties. ^^ In General Orders 
Number 18, issued prior to the erection of the court in New 
Hanover, its government and jurisdiction were defined. ^° Its 
officers were a Judge and Provost Marshal General. In New- 
Hanover, J. C. Mann, an officer of the Freedmen's Bureau, 
was appointed Judge; Lieut. G. A. Williams held the position 
of Marshal General for two months, and then Col. H. B. Judd 
succeeded him. In general the jurisdiction of Provost Courts 
covered civil cases in which the amount involved did not ex- 

" Minutes of Meetings of County Commissioners, July 7, 1869. 

*^ Canby's General Order No. 120, Public Laws of North Carolina, 1868, ch. 266. 

" Wilmington Journal, March 27, 1867. 

^ Ibid., March 18, 1868. 

Reconstruction in JSTew Hanover County 93 

cede $300.00; debtor cases, in which ten days' notice must be 
given if the amount exceeded $25.00 and fifteen days' notice if 
the amount exceeded $10.00, but these notices could be waived 
with the consent of both parties; other offences not primarily 
military in nature, all of which excepting manslaughter, assault 
with intention to kill, dueling, perjury, arson and rape, being 
transferred to the Post Commander; elections and cases arising 
therefrom, such as prevention of voting by intimidation, etc. ; 
offenses at common law under the state statutes. In February 
of 1868, its jurisdiction was limited to three matters. It had 
jurisdiction in matters of difference between employee and the 
employer relative to rights under military orders ; when the 
proper state authorities failed or were unable to protect persons 
and property the court might have jurisdiction, as when the 
Criminal Court failed to find a true bill against the defendants 
in the case of Ormsby vs. Murphy, the Provost Court took the 
case in hand ; when impartial justice could not be had, appeal 
was in order to the court. ^^ In the case of in re Reaves (May 
10, 1868) Judge Mann assumed original jurisdiction in criminal 
matters.^- The Court was subject to military authorities, and its 
decisions were sometimes forwarded to General Canby as in 
the Reaves case. In case of Bowden vs. King, Canby set aside 
ihe judgment of the Court. The jurisdiction of the Provost 
Court ceased when the military government was withdrawn. 

Courts of oyer and terminer were also erected to facilitate 
justice. During and immediately after the war disorder pre- 
vailed. Crimes were frequently committed, the procedure of 
the courts was slow, and the docket congested. Hence, special 
courts of oyer and terminer were erected to relieve the con- 
gestion. In 1862 the legislature authorized the Governor to 
issue commissions to superior court judges to hold courts of 
oyer and terminer. Another law of 1863 provided for the erec- 
tion of courts upon the petition of the county court, the appli- 
cation of the Attorney General, or of the solicitor of any 
judicial district. In pursuance of these facts a special court 
was established for New Hanover County in the early part of 
1865. Its existence ended with the termination of the Pro- 
visional Government in January, 1866. Later, in July, 1866, a 

"Zfcii., February 18, 1868. 
^'Ibid., May 10, 1868. 

94 Historical Papers 

special court for New Hanover was erected, which continued 
in operation until the rise of the new judicial system provided 
for by the constitution of 1868. By the original acts the juris- 
diction of the special court was confined to petty crimes, mis- 
demeanors, and white people only were subject to it. However 
under an amendment made during the war, both races might be 
tried in the special court. The jurisdiction under the act of 
1866 was practically the same as under the war legislation. 

A criminal court with a wider jurisdiction than that of the 
Provost Court and Oyer and Terminer Courts was needed. In 
the early part of 1867, agitation for a criminal court began and 
on February 12, of that year an Act passed the Legislature to 
establish a Criminal Court for New Hanover County. ^^ The 
judge was elected by the legislature and was commissioned 
by the Governor. Hon. O. P. Meares was first to fill the posi- 
tion. He served until August, 1868, and then, being barred 
from office by the Howard Amendment, he was succeeded by 
Colonel Edward Cantwell. Colonel Cantwell was prominent 
as the author of CantweU's Justice, and also as a Confederate 
soldier. However, he had received a presidential pardon and 
so could undertake the duties of the office. From this time on 
he was identified with the Republican party. Justice as ad- 
ministered in his court was impartial. The first instance of 
a negro serving as a jury-man occurred in this court in April, 
1868. In August, 1868, the greater portion of the work done 
by the criminal court was taken over by the Special Court of 
Wilmington, created by act of the legislature. The jurisdiction 
over most of the offences committed in the city limits was 
transferred to the special court. The new court also exercised 
jurisdiction in those cases arising in the city which formerly 
would have been tried by the court of pleas and quarter ses- 
sions. Its jurisdiction was thus confined to petty crimes and 
misdemeanors committed within the corporate limits of the 
city.^* The judge was required to be a resident of the City 
and to have a state law license. He was appointed by the 
Governor for a term of eight years with an annual salary of 
$2,000. The Court met four times a year. Its procedure was 
like that of the Superior Court to which appeals could be 

"Laws, 1867, ch. 28; Morning Star, February 14, 1867. 
"Laws of North Carolina, 1868 (Act of August 8th). 

Eecoxstruction in New Hanover County 95 

made. There arose four chief objections to the Special Court: 
(1) the expense — two grand juries, and two petit juries were 
by its estabhshment made necessary; (2) jury service was in- 
convenient and many citizens avoided it when possible; (3) 
there was difficulty in determining whether crimes were com- 
mitted in the City, and hence if it were a matter for the 
Court to dispose of ; (4) the bill taxed the City people to sup- 
port the Court. ^^ However the Court was established, and 
Cantwell was again made Judge. 

It is unnecessary to take up in detail the Superior Courts. 
Their jurisdiction was much the same as today except in so 
far as certain cases were attended to by the various other 
courts. Judge Buxton at first presided but later was succeeded 
by D. L. Russel, a native radical, who afterwards became one 
of the three Republican Governors North Carolina has had. 
There was also a Master in Equity. His duties, as 
denoted by his title, were confined to equity cases. The 
office was abolished along with the County Court. ^^ The 
Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions did not play an impor- 
tant part. Its jurisdiction at first included matters of a pro- 
bate nature, such as wills, inheritances, administrations of es- 
tates, assessing of damage on property, and hearing of motions. 
Until the establishment of the Criminal Court it exercised 
criminal jurisdiction. Finally there were Military Courts and 
a Special Magistrate's Court. The former dealt with matters 
under the control of the military authorities. The latter con- 
fined itself almost exclusively to ejectment cases. 

Reference has already been made to the fact that military 
interference often obstructed the work of the Judiciary. Be- 
low are a few instances illustrating this. On October 15, 
1867, jury lists were ordered to be prepared under military 
directions.^" By a special order of General Canby (order No. 
176), registration books were to be submitted by the command- 
ing officer to the sheriff, who w^as to enter the names on the 
jury list and then return the same to the officer.^* In August, 
1867, Judge Meares of the Criminal Court was told that all 
juries not drawn in accord with the orders would be suspended. 

^ Morning Star and Wilmington Journal, August 27, 1868. 

^ Wihningtoti Journal, July 21, 1868. 

" Morning Star, October 10, 1867. 

^ Wilmington Journal. October 12, 1867. 

96 Historical Papees 

Jury lists in the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions were 
ordered revised so as to include negroes. Verdicts rendered 
were often set aside. In the Criminal Court, S. J. Boney was 
convicted of stealing a horse and sentenced to death, an act of 
the Legislature of 1867 making this offense punishable by 
death. ^'' General Sickles set aside the verdict.*''^ On another 
occasion a negro was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced 
to be branded, but Sickles again interposed. The Chairman of 
the County Court was notified that "Whipping or maiming 
the person" as a punishment was prohibited by the Department. 
Interference in these cases was probably justified because of 
the severity of the punishment, but, in the April Term, 1867, of 
the Criminal Court, Sickles set aside all verdicts rendered, 
Avhich was certainly extreme and uncalled for.*'^ 


A paper on reconstruction in New Hanover County would 
not be complete without a discussion of government affairs in 
Wilmington. At one time General Canby removed the muni- 
cipal officers and placed in their stead a commission composed 
of radicals, and Wilmington for a while had arbitrary rule 
under a commission form of government. Even after the 
War, Wilmington was not yet recognized as a city. It was 
referred to as "The Town of Wilmington." 

At the time of the fall of Fort Fisher in 1865, John Dawson, 
a prominent banker and business man, was Mayor. The 
Board of Aldermen was composed of H. Von Glahn, J. G. 
Burr, W. H. Lippitt, W. A. Wright, S. D. Wallace, Eli 
Murray, Alex Adrian, and W. S. Anderson. ^^ Upon the in- 
stitution of the Provisional Government, so far as is known, 
these same officers exercised municipal functions in so far 
as these were not taken over by the military authorities. 
These officers served subordinate to the military and were 
really a "Provisional Commission." The Provisional Govern- 
ment expired January 1, 1866, and, in order that the town 
should not be without officers, a bill was passed in the Legis- 

»» Public Laws of North Carolina, 1866, ch. 62. 
"* Wilminaton Journal, August 5, 1867. 
^^ Ibid., May 1, 1867. 
'"Ibid., April 2, 1865. 

Reconstruction in Nkw Hanover County 97 

lature to continue the Provisional Committee until city ofificers 
were elected."^ 

About this time a movement to secure a city charter for 
Wilmington began/'^ Civic pride was behind the movement. 
The "City of Newbern," the "City of Raleigh," and others 
were smaller than the "Town of Wilmington," and yet they 
seemed to have a prestige by virtue of their municipal titles. 
In February, 1866, a bill was introduced in the Legislature to 
charter Wilmington as a City. Its population at this time was 
about 18,000. Mr. E. D. Hall, Senator from New Hanover, 
was active and secured its passage in both Houses of the Legis- 
lature on February 1, 1865.^^ At first, opposition arose as it 
was thought the charter would increase the taxes, but it was 
pointed out that no new office would be created and hence this 
argument was untenable. The charter provided for the crea- 
tion of four wards, two Aldermen to be chosen from each. 
The Mayor was to receive a salary of $2,000. The Mayor and 
Board were to be elected, and these were to appoint the other 
ofificers. The Chief Marshal and Assistant were to be ap- 
pointed. The offices of Town Collector and Chief of the Fire 
and Police Departments were merged into that of Marshal. 
The Sheriff of the County was to hold an election ten days 
after he received a certified copy of the bill. A property 
qualification was placed on the Mayor and Aldermen. The 
Charter was submitted to the people March 9, 1866, and 
passed with a vote of 358 to 240. At the time of the submis- 
sion of the Charter to the people, municipal officers were voted 
on. Dawson headed one list and A. H. Van Bokelen the 
other. The latter ticket triumphed by a vote of 352 to 240. 
Aldermen elected were S. D. Wallace, R. J. Jones, J. G. Burr, 
J. H. Ryan, O. G. Parsley, W. H. Lippitt, W. A. Wright, and 
A. E. Hall. General Robert Ransom was chosen City Mar- 
shal and T. W. Anderson City Clerk. ^'^ Van Bokelen con- 
tinued in authority until December 18, 1866, when Dawson was 
again elected Mayor with practically the same Board. The 
new regime held power until July, 1868. The condition of the 

'^ Ibid., January 24, 1866; also Laws of North Carolina, 1866, ch. 21. 

<^ Ibid., January 26, 1866. 

" Private Laws, 1866, ch. 2. 

" Wilmington lournal, March 10, 1866. 

98 Historical Papers 

City was very discouraging. Crime and disorder prevailed, and 
maintenance of order was the chief problem. The task was 
severe. In August, 1867, a highway robbery organization was 
discovered, in which several policemen were implicated. Those 
in authority, however, were exhonerated. This incident illus- 
trates the difficulty of enforcing order. 

The City was heavily in debt and the treasury very much 
depleted. No definite figures are obtainable.^ ^ The "Town of 
Wilmington bonds" had been taken up by a new issue upon the 
incorporation of the City. These bonds were to be paid in 
stated installments. July 1, 1868, the coupons of the new issue 
fell due and were taken up to the extent of $6,000. The valu- 
ation of City property in January, 1867, was $3,291,635. In 
May, 1868, the Board of Aldermen levied taxes at a rate which 
^v'as one-quarter per cent higher than that of 1860. As to the 
final disposition of the City debt no information could be 

Another City election occurred in July, 1868. Prior to 
this, on December 19, 1867, General Canby had been petitioned 
to remove the city ofTficers.***^ The only objection to them was 
that they refused to place negroes in office, which demand 
was made in the latter part of 1867. By order of Canby, the 
municipal offices were closed May 1, 1867, and a new set of 
officers were appointed as follows : Mayor, J. H. Nefif, a radical 
Lcalawag, William Teller, negro, James Wilson, scalawag, E. 
R. Brink, carpetbagger, G. H. Jackson, negro, L. G. Estes, 
carpetbagger, Silas Martin, scalawag, G. R. French, scalawag, 
G. W. Price, negro. '''" For some reason, the papers did not 
say much about the occurrence. This commission ruled, or 
rather misruled, Wilmington for only about one and one-half 
months. An election took place July 15, 1868. In this election 
there were two distinct elements. A thorough organization of 
the radicals, composed of negroes, scalawags, and carpet bag- 
gers, had been developing for some time. The radical ticket 
had been drawn up six months before the election. This was 

*' Letter from Silas U. Martin, mayor in 1871, to Hon. Joe E. Stevenson, 
states the debt in 1868 was $525,000. — IVihnington Journal, May 10, 1871. 

*" The writer could not gain access to authoritative sources on the city's financial 

"' Wilmington Journal, December 20, 1867. 

''"Ibid., May 31, 1868. 

Reconstruction in New Hanover County 99 

called by the opposing party the "Guy Fawkes Junto" ticket, 
and proposed the following for office, Mayor, J. H. Neff ; Al- 
dermen, J. C. Klein, E. M. Shoemaker, J. H. Chadbourne, and 
G. Z. French."^ There were no negroes among them but all 
were carpetbaggers and scalawags. Opposing this line-up was 
the Citizens ticket headed by W. W. Harris. The latter 
triumphed in spite of the radical's boasted strength and in 
spite of a black registration of 2,052 as against 1,142 whites. 
The reason for the defeat of the radical ticket was that the 
negroes were learning that their interests were with those of 
the Southern people, and they refused to be bossed by carpet- 
baggers and scalawags, or rather that is the reason assigned by 
the newspaper of the period. Neff received only three white 
and twenty-three colored votes. But the officers elected were 
not permitted to serve, for Governor Holden came to the 
rescue of his radical friends, and on July 28, 1868, presumably 
under the power of "An Act in Relation to Municipal Affairs," 
he appointed as Mayor, Neff, and as Commissioners, Henry 
Kuhl, scalawag, William Kellog, negro, James Wilson, scala- 
wag, E. R. Brink, carpetbagger, G. Z. French, scalawag, G. W. 
Price, negro, D. Rumley, carpetbagger, and Lawson B. Rice, 
carpetbagger.'''- Their appointment was illegal for the Act 
read "In the absence of any contrary provision,"etc. How- 
ever, the city officers surrendered because they thought re- 
sistance would be prejudicial to the City. So on July 30, the 
City aifairs were turned over to Neff and his associates. The 
new Board at once reorganized a police force, replacing whites 
with negroes, and proceeded to fill other offices with scalawags, 
carpetbaggers and negroes. Disorder was the ordinary condi- 
tion. Neff, of course, was incompetent, and this condition pre- 
vailed until the re-establishment of the state government. 


The outlook for the development of New Hanover County 
in 1865 was very discouraging. In general, four factors were 
responsible : the havoc played by the epidemic of yellow fever 
during the war, the number of the heads of families who were 
killed in the war, ravages of war, and industrial paralysis. 

'1 Ibid.. July 15, 1868. 
'"Ibid., July 28, 1868. 

100 Historical Papeks 

The county had been pretty well stripped by the soldiers, even 
the church bells in the city of Wilmington were taken by the 
Yankees.'^ War always leaves devastation in its wake. Rov- 
ing negroes committed depredations, and, first and last, de- 
stroyed much property. There were practically no industries ; 
farms were abandoned, and great stretches of land remained 
uncultivated. Of a total area of farm lands of 448,549 acres, 
395,624 were uncultivated in 1865, and the lumber, cotton, and 
naval stores business was for a time practically shattered. 
Even those industries and farms in operation were seriously 
hampered by a lack of labor. Over 10,000 slaves were set free 
by the outcome of the War. The negroes' idea of freedom was 
freedom from work. They congregated in the City of Wil- 
mington and there became a source of much trouble. The pop- 
ulation of New Hanover County in 1870 was 27,978, and the 
City of Wilmington contained nearly half of this. 

There was much disturbance in Wilmington, but the first 
riot in the County took place at Topsail Sound on November 
?7, 1865.'''^ Three negroes and two whites were killed and 
others wounded. The trouble started when a negro mob under- 
took to rescue from the officers one of their number who had 
committed theft. This incident showed the necessity for or- 
ganization among the whites, and in December following a 
militia company for local defense was organized under the 
leadership of Captain Robert Radclifif, an ex-Confederate sol- 
dier. The negro majority in New Hanover County at this 
time was about 10,000, and the task of controlling it proved 
baffling. Reports of crime in all parts of the County were fre- 
cjuent. Wilmington was the center of disturbance. From 
1865-68 there were no less than ten riots of serious propor- 
tions. Crime was of daily occurrence. For instance, in the 
month of May, 1868, there were committed seventy offences, 
fifty-six of which were larceny and the remainder of a more 
aggravated nature, ranging from arson to criminal assault. Of 
the offenders seventeen were white and sixty-three negroes.'^^ 
The record of this month is by no means extreme but is 
merely typical of conditions. As early as 1866 a work house 

^~ Ibid., May 15, 1865. 

''* Ibid., November 29, 1865. 

"Ibid., June 1. 1868. 

Reconstruction in New Hanover County 101 

was provided for the purpose of handling criminals. In 1867 
an organization known as Regulators who made depradations 
on property and stole cattle and horses was unearthed. The 
charge was made that the radical County officers were impli- 
cated but this was not sustained. 

This condition of strife necessarily caused much suffering 
in addition to that due to the ravages of war, the devastation 
of disease, and industrial paralysis. In the years 1866, 1867, 
1868, the crop production was only one-fourth of the normal 
yield. Provisions were scarce and prices high. Wood was 
from $8.(X) to $10.00 per cord. Pork sold for twelve cents per 
pound on foot. Rent in Wilmington for a modest dwelling 
was $500.00 per annum. These are merely illustrations. 
Household groceries were sufficiently high as to surpass the 
level of the present high price era. Sanitary conditions were 
very bad. There was a smallpox epidemic among the negroes 
in February, 1866, and in that month 452 cases in the City 
limits were reported.''''^ The Medical Society made an heroic 
efi'ort and rendered good service. In 1868 Canby ordered that 
negroes discharged for voting contrary to the wishes of their 
employees were to be supported at the public expense. This 
put a premium on idleness and swelled the number of the un- 
employed. The order also provided for additional poor taxes, 
thus showing one method of relieving distress. From 1865 to 
1-868 over $9,000 of the tax payers' money was spent for this 
purpose.'' The Freedmen's Bureau rendered practically no 
service, and constant interference on the part of its officers 
served only to obstruct the work of other authorities. In 1868, 
Thaddeus Stevens presented a resolution in Congress, with a 
memorial from the City attached, instructing the Appropria- 
tion Committee to bring in a bill directing the Freedmen's 
Bureau to advance $75,000 to the City of Wilmington on the 
bonds of that City for the purpose of relieving distress. The 
loan was authorized, but I have not found if it was ever 
negotiated. Another agency in this work was the Ladies 
Benevolent Society. Just the amount of its activity cannot be 
determined. The City authorities co-operated with this or- 
ganization. In July, 1868, the Board of Aldermen ordered 

'"'Ibid., March 1, 1866. 
"/fcirf., January 2, 1868. 

102 Historical Papers 

that an amount not over $100.00 per month be paid to the 
president of the Society, Mrs. Kennedy, to be used for chari- 
table purposes."^ A Court of Wardens for the Poor was 
estabhshed, and, in 1867 it was ordered that fines and license 
fees be apphed for the rehef of the poor. It is impossible to 
approximate the amount of work accomplished by these various 

In connection with the economic phase of reconstruction in 
New Hanover, a word or two must be said relative to the 
Bankrupt Law which went into effect March 2, 1867, and the 
extent to which its provisions were taken advantage of. The 
law provided that any one owning at least three hundred acres 
of land could get the benefit of the law. A deposit of fifty 
dollars must be made with the Register of Bankruptcy to cover 
the cost of application, and additional fees raised the expense 
to nearly $100.00. A separate statement of both assets and lia- 
bilities had to be made and sworn to preliminary to the appli- 
cant's being declared bankrupt. His creditors then met and 
appointed an assignee to dispose of the estate. The law pro- 
vided the bankrupt could be allowed an exemption of $400.00 
in property, clothing, and other effects allowed by the state 
law at first. '^'^ Mr. A. W. Rieger was Register in Bankruptcy 
for New Hanover and Brunswick Counties^° Mr. W. A. 
Guthrie was appointed to the position for the judicial district, 
of which New Hanover was a part, in 1868. He came to Wil- 
mington in 1868 and in January of that year as many as fifty 
persons were declared bankrupt.^^ By June of the same year 
fifteen additional applications were granted making a total of 
sixty-five for the county. There was some justification for 
people going into bankruptcy. They had contracted debts on a 
basis which counted slaves as property. Now this valuable 
asset was destroyed. Furthermore, real estate had very con- 
siderably depreciated, and this prevented debtors from being" 
able to meet their obligations. 

Another problem of note was that of labor. Industrial para- 
lysis was in part due to an overturning of old labor conditions. 
Necessarily improved conditions could only be obtained through 

'*• Moj->it»i(7 Star, July 12, 1868; Evening Dispatch, July 13, 1868. 
" Wilmington Journal, January 26, 1866. 
*" Conversation with Major W. A. Guthrie. 
"' Wilmington Journal, January 23, 1868. 

RECONSTRUCTioisr IN ISTew Hanover County 103 

a readjustment of labor. Regarding house-servants much need 
not be said. In addition to the work of the Freedmen's Bureau, 
carried on on a small scale in New Hanover County, a sort of 
house-wives' league was organized to solve the problem. Prac- 
tically all accomplished was to require certificates as to the 
fitness and character of the applicant attested to by previous 

Negroes left the farms ; quite a number emigrated from 
New Hanover to the cotton states. In order to obtain a labor 
supply efforts were made to induce immigration. In January, 
1867, a County Agricultural Society was formed whose pur- 
pose was to solve the labor question. ^^ Dugald McMillan was 
chairman, and he, together with S. S. Satchwell and B. R. 
Mason composed the Executive Committee. Subsidiary dis- 
trict societies were organized also. In July, 1867, the minutes 
of the meeting of the Spring Garden Agricultural Club showed 
a definite step toward encouraging immigration.-^ In August, 

1867, the minutes of the Topsail Agricultural Society showed 
that there were thirty-two coolie laborers in New Hanover 
County.''^ The Southern Immigration Society, a national or- 
ganization, had an agency in Wilmington during 1867, and 

1868. For 1868, Mr. Bontfort, an agent of the Company, fixed 
the wages of immigrants at $8.00 to $10.00 per month for 
the first six months, and $10.00 to $12.00 thereafter. He also 
suggested that an Immigrant Aid Society be established. In 
January, 1868, a County Immigration Society was organized, 
and a committee was appointed to report on labor conditions 
with recommendations as to steps to be taken. ^■'' In June, 
Mr. Van Sickle of New Jersey came to New Hanover in the 
interest of immigration. At the meeting of the Society in the 
same month, a plan embracing four methods of inducing im- 
migration was suggested: (1) the County should obtain about 
ten thousand acres of reasonably compact land; (2) this 
should be let out at low and attractive prices, making use of 
credit methods; (3) means of communication with prospective 
settlers must be devised; (4) quick means of transportation 

^- Ibid., January 1, 1867. 
^^ Ibid., July 27, 1867. 
^Ibid., August 1, 1867. 
^ Ibid., January 21, 1868. 

104 Historical Papers 

should be provided.^*' The work actually accomplished is un- 
certain, but the scheme was partly successful. Private con- 
cerns also attempted to encourage immigration. As early as 

1865, F. W. Foster and Company opened an office in Wil- 
mington for the purpose of inducing immigration. In January, 

1866, this Company caused to be brought to New Hanover 
thirty-seven German laborers. ^^ 

In order to get labor, farmers adopted the plan of having 
negro criminals bound out to them, and they would pay the 
cost of the cases. Nothing much was said of this practice for 
it would have been regarded in the North as a species of 
slavery.^s The result of importation of labor, the utilization of 
negroes through the process above referred to, and the work of 
the New Hanover Agriculture Society in teaching methods of 
farming assisted greatly in bettering conditions. In 1868 the 
General Assembly passed an act incorporating the Cape Fear 
Agricultural Society. Its work was not confined to the county, 
but the Society had for its object the betterment of Agricul- 
ture throughout the Cape Fear section.^^ 

The farms of New Hanover County averaged about eighty 
acres,^^ less than in 1860. The transformation from the plan- 
tation system to the small farms, which was one of the re- 
sults of the war, was taking place, and this accounts for the 
increasing small size of the farms as compared with those 
before the war. The principal products were cotton, crude 
turpentine, spirits, tar, lumber, hogs and a few cattle. Below 
are inspectors reports for 1866-1867 and 1867-1868. In 
1866-1867: cotton 12,454 bales; crude turpentine, 91,588 
barrels ; spirits, 44,990 barrels ; and tar, 25,644 barrels. In 
1867-1868: cotton 12,094 bales; turpentine, 125,654 barrels; 
spirits, 75,473 barrels; tar, 25,988 barrels.'^^ It will be 
noted that there was an increase in production of all staples 
except cotton, and in spite of better labor facilities the 
production of that article fell ofif about 500 bales. This 
was due to the cotton tax of two and one-half cents levied 

«« Ibid., January 21, 1868. 

" Evening Dispatch, January 16, 1866. 

^ Conversation with Major Guthrie. 

8» Laws, 1868-9. ch. 199. 

'° That is, if the number of acres in improved farm land be taken as the basis. 

*' Wilmington Journal, March 10, 1868. 

Reconsteuctiox in New Hanover County 105 

by the National Government. This amounted to a tax from 
twenty to thirty per cent and had to be paid upon the market- 
ing of the crop. The efifect of this tax was to cause the 
farmer to abandon to a certain extent cotton culture. Its 
baneful effect was soon seen, and after continued efforts on the 
part of the business men all over the country it was repealed 
in 1868. As early as December, 1866, the legislature of North 
Carolina passed a resolution authorizing the Attorney General 
to test the legality of the tax. 

Trade conditions of Wilmington were not in the best condi- 
tion. In the latter part of 1866, the Wilmington Chamber of 
Commerce was incorporated for the purpose of bettering condi- 
tions."- Commerce was carried on by a line of steamers be- 
tween New York, Philadelphia, and Boston, and Wilmington. 
But much of the Carolina business as in the days of old went 
to Norfolk and Charleston. Railroad fares out of and into 
Wilmington were excessive. An effort was made to have them 
reduced as it was claimed that better rates would enable busi- 
ness men to reach out for trade. The railroads finally ac- 
ceded to the request, and an appreciable change for the better 
gradually became evident. Freight rates were also reduced, and 
shipments of cotton began to be made from South Carolina 
and Georgia.^3 Before the War there had been a little direct 
trade with Europe. An effort was made to revive and en- 
large this. As early as February, 1866, business houses began 
receiving shipments from Europe. But this was hampered by 
strict quarantine regulations, and did not amount to much 
until a much later date. However, in this period, the founda- 
tion was laid for the present valuable trade, and here many 
of the present business houses of Wilmington had their be- 

The scarcity of money was one of the prime causes for un- 
wholesome trade relations. The condition of Wilmington 
banks was not conducive to confidence and hence banking: 
facilities were bad. They finally closed their affairs in accor- 
dance with an act, by which they were allowed to file bills in 
Courts of Equity for the benefit of depositors. ''■^ Individual 

"= Private Laws, 1866-67, ch. 7i. 

" Wilmington Journal, June 12, 1868. 

»* Private Laws of North Carolina, 1866, ch. 3. 

106 HisTOEiCAL Papeks 

brokers sold exchange on New York, Boston, and other cities. 
Brokers also bought notes on those cities. But these meager 
banking facilities were insufficient. There were alternate 
periods of depression, and merchants had to wait for shipments 
from other cities. ^° Need of a national bank was recognized 
and an effort was made to have it established but it did not 
materialize during the period of our study. 


In discussing the politics of New Hanover County during 
the time of reconstruction, there appears a greater uniformity 
with general state affairs than is the case in the social and 
economic phases. County politics was hardly more or less than 
a reflection of state issues. 

The first act of the national administration upon the fall of 
the Confederacy was to institute some sort of government for 
the recalcitrant states. The scheme known as Presidential Re- 
construction was begun on May 29, 1865 when President 
Johnson issued his amnesty proclamations pardoning certain 
classes who had espoused the Confederate cause and appoint- 
ing W. W. Holden as Provisional Governor of North Caro- 
lina. Holden was authorized to call a convention which should 
provide a republican form of government for the state and re- 
establish relations with the Federal Government. A procla- 
mation by Governor Holden on June 12, 1865, stated his policy 
and called upon the loyal people to aid him in establishing a 
government. He at once went to work appointing justices of 
the peace who administered the amnesty oath and provided for 

The political subdivisions of New Hanover were the pre- 
cincts. Of these there were fourteen, of which the Wilming- 
ton precinct was the most important since it contained the 
most important town of the County. Wilmington was also the 
County Seat. The lack of sources prevents a thorough con- 
sideration of the politics of the several precincts, but in general 
the main tendencies can be traced. 

All told there were fifty-five magistrates appointed for 
New Hanover by Provisional Governor Holden. A deal of 

"° Wilmington Journal, January 1, 1866. 

Reconstruction in New Hanover County 107 

trouble arose here, as elsewhere, in reference to the removal of 
disabilities. However, the preliminaries for calling a convn- 
tion having been complied with, Governor Holden on August 
8, 1865, issued a proclamation ordering the election of delegates 
for a convention to meet October 2, 1865. No issues of great 
importance were brought to the front in the campaign. The 
election in New Hanover was quiet and orderly. In fact, the 
period from the cessation of hostilities till the latter part of 
1867 was very quiet politically and not until that time did 
party lines become so marked as to cause much strife. 

The convention met in Raleigh, October 2, 1865. The 
New Hanover delegates to the convention were O. G. Parsley, 
S. S. Satchwell, and William Freeman. ^^^ Among the meas- 
ures taken up was the abrogation of the ordinance of seces- 
sion, an ordinance repudiating slavery and the institution of 
state and local government. It was provided that these ordi- 
nances be submitted to the electors, and state and local officers 
were to be elected at the same time. The New Hanover dele- 
gates were in favor of the ordinances, for the result of the war 
practically assured their adoption. 

The election provided for took place on November 9, 1865. 
The candidates for Governor were W. W. Holden and Jona- 
than Worth. Issues in this election, both as regards state and 
county affairs, were obscured by the personality of the candi- 
dates. Worth was elected Governor by a majority of 5,937 out 
of a total of 60,000. In New Hanover County he received 
693 votes, while Holden polled only 76.^^ The vote on the or- 
dinances was much smaller. In New Hanover the ordinance 
prohibiting slavery was carried by a vote of 118 to 96; that re- 
pealing the ordinance of secession carried by a vote of 142 to 
66.^^ Despite Worth's majority, President Johnson request- 
ed Holden to continue to act as Governor, for he regarded the 
election as being a victory for the anti-union element of the 
state. But in December, 1865, he was notified to turn over 
the affairs of the state to Governor Worth when he should 
have become qualified. 

Lack of continuity in the newspaper files prevents an ac- 

°^ Wilmington Journal, November 29, 1865. 
" Dailv Dispatch, November 10, 1865. 
^^Ibid'., November 10, 1865. 

108 « Historical Papers 

curate account of county affairs prior to 1867. However, 
some information, detached though it may be, can be had. In 
the election of November 9, 1865 E. D. Hall was elected 
Senator from New Hanover, and R. H. Cowan and J. R. 
Hawes were chosen Representatives. County officers elected 
were Samuel Bunting, Sheriff; R. B. Wood, Clerk of the 
County Court ; and H. A. Bagg, Clerk of the Superior Court.^^ 
An effort to find out the official registration, vote, and ma- 
jority in this election proved unsuccessful. According to the 
newspapers these latter officers were regarded as de facto offi- 
cers, and hence their acts were without legality, but the Legisla- 
ture which met November 27, 1865, validated their official acts 
and formally approved the revival of county government. The 
officers mentioned remained in office till August 2, 1868. 

The convention met again in May, confronted with the 
task of forming a state constitution, which would be acceptable 
to the national administration. By this time opposition to its 
taking action had developed, but the work was undertaken, 
and finally a constitution drafted. Without going into a dis- 
cussion of its provisions, it will suffice to say that it was sub- 
mitted to the people August 2, 1866, and was rejected by a 
majority of 1,982 out of a total of 41,122. In New Hanover 
County the constitution was rejected by a vote of 585 to 70.^'-^^ 

The next political movement, the effect of which is notice- 
able on county political affairs, was the meeting of the Loyal 
Union Convention at Raleigh on September 20, 1866. This 
convention favored the Fourteenth Amendment, criticized 
Governor Worth, and after declaring that only loyal union 
men should hold office, nominated Alfred Dockery to oppose 
Worth. Here a radical organization, which was the beginning 
of the Republican Party in North Carolina, began, and from 
this time on glimmerings of a radical organization in New 
Hanover are noticeable. No appreciable interest was attached 
to the campaign which followed, and Worth was re-elected by 
a majority of 23,496. New Hanover County polled 498 votes 
for Worth and returned only two for Dockery. ^^^ 

From this time on party lines came to be more and more 

""/birf., November 11, 186S. 

'"■> Worth, MSS. Letter-book, p. 188. 

"» Dailv Dispatch, November IS, 1866. 

Recoxsteuction in New Hanover County 109 

sharply drawn. The radical organization in North Carolina, 
composed of carpet baggers, scalawags, and negroes, became 
very active. The year 1867 opened up with a campaign in 
which the issues were based on the alleged alarming condition 
in the state. Gradually a conservative organization grew up 
in response to the attacks of radicalism and the state came to 
be regarded as being divided into radical and conservative sec- 
tions, the east being regarded as the rebel section, while the 
west was looked upon as the stronghold of unionism. 

As North Carolina had rejected the Fourteenth Amend- 
ment in the latter part of 1866, it had not yet been recognized 
as a state in the Union by Congress. The policy of prese- 
dential reconstruction was in this respect a failure — in that it 
did not establish normal relations with the Federal Govern- 
ment. Thus on March 2, 1867, an act "to provide a more 
efficient government for the rebel states" was passed and the 
reconstruction acts placing North Carolina under military au- 
thority were applied. ^^- General Sickles was assigned to the 
North Carolina command, and he immediately declared the 
State government provisional. The general trend of his policy 
in so far as New Hanover was affected has been previously 
noted. On August 26, 1867 General E. R. S. Canby succeeded 
him and in general he continued the policy of his predecessor. 
Among other things he provided rules of registration and 
ordered an election to be held November 19 and 20, 1867, at 
which the calling of a convention to organize the state govern- 
ment was to be voted upon. There w^as a good deal of dis- 
cussion as to the removing of disabilities, qualifications of 
electors, etc., but finally the registration was completed. The 
returns showed that New Hanover was one of the nineteen 
counties that had a negro majority. Mention has been made; 
of the .beginning of a radical organization in the state. This 
organization now received a noticeable impetus, and on March 
27, a convention under the domination of the Holden men met 
at Raleigh, with the ostensible purpose of deciding upon meas- 
ures to restore the state to the Union, but in reality to effect 
a more perfect organization. ^"^'^ New Hanover County was 

"^ Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina, p. 197. 
*"' Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina. 

110 Historical Papers 

represented by General Joseph C. Abbott, carpet bagger, S. S. 
Ashley, carpet bagger, and A. H. Galloway, negro. ^^^ From 
this time on the radicals' cause in New Hanover went forward. 
Among their leaders were General Abbott, a northern man who 
had come to Bladen County and thence removed to Wilming- 
ton, S. S. Ashley, a white man from Cape Cod who at one 
time \vas State Superintendent of Public Instruction, A. H. 
Galloway, a native of Wilmington, and D. L. Russell of 
Brunswick, who in 1896 became Governor of North Carolina. 

This radical organization called forth activity among the 
conservatives of the state. Conservative organization began 
the latter part of 1867 and measures were at once taken in 
New Hanover County to further its interests. The growth of 
the County organization dates from December 12, 1867, when 
the County Executive Committee called a conservative meet- 
jj^g 10 5 Three days later the conservative party was formally 
launched. An Executive Committee, composed of J. A. Engel- 
hard, J. R. Hawes, S. S. Satchwell, J. J. Hedrick, James Reiley, 
Sol Bear, and Thomas H. McKoy, was chosen. At the same 
time O. G. Parsley, S. S. Satchwell. and William Freeman were 
appointed to represent New Hanover^"^ in the State Conser- 
vative Meeting to be held in the near future. There also 
sprang up Democratic clubs in all parts of the County and in 
Wilmington there was a colored Democratic Club. Among 
the Conservative leaders were A. M. Waddell, lawyer, writer, 
and patriot, and George Davis, a native of Wilmington who 
had been Attorney General for the Confederate States. 

The election to be held November 19 and 20, 1867 was for 
the purpose of calling a convention to frame a constitution. 
In New Hanover the result was in favor of the radicals, and 
J. C. Abbott, S. S. Ashley, and A. H. Galloway were chosen as 
representatives. Neither of these had ever paid a single cent 
of taxes in New Hanover County. In this election the colored 
people cast their first vote. The total vote of New Hanover 
was 4,009, with 2,928 for the convention and 1,847 against 

It is not within the scope of this paper to discuss the work 

^** Wilmington Journal, March 26, 1867. 

lo' Ibid., December 12, 1867. 

^'^ Ibid., December 15, 1867. 

"" Wilmington Journal, November 22, 1867. 

Keconstkuction in New Hanover County 111 

of the convention of 1868. It formed a constitution and took 
measures to restore the state to civil government by providing 
for the election of State and County officers. The constitution 
was adopted by the Convention and submitted to the people. 
In respect to County affairs it placed the government in the 
hands of five commissioners to be elected by the people. A 
Register of Deeds and Treasurer from each county were pro- 
vided for. Each county was to be divided into townships 
which were to elect two justices bi-ennially.^*^^ 

In 1868 the Conservative candidate for governor was 
Thomas S. Ashe, while W. W. Holden was the Republican 
nominee. On April 21, 22, 23, the election was held, in which 
the constitution was accepted by a vote of 93,086 as against 
that of 74,016; and Holden was elected Governor by a vote 
of 92,235 as against 73,594 in favor of Ashe. The New Han- 
over vote was 3,511 in favor of the constitution and 2,235 
against it and 3,568 for Holden to 2,231 for» 

In July, 1868, an election for county officers was held in 
New Hanover County. Practically the same officers were re- 
tained under the new constitution, and the radical element was 
in charge of the county affairs. The County Commissioners 
were: E. M. Shoemaker, Rufus Garriss, Stephen Keys, Elijah 
Hewlett, and James Wilson. As Sheriff J. W. Schenck, Jr., 
was chosen, and he replaced Samuel R. Bunting. B. S. Wal- 
dron was elected Register of Deeds and R. B. Wood remained 
Clerk of the County Court. As regards the office of Sheriff, 
there was a dispute. Bunting claimed Schenck's election was 
obtained by fraud and refused for a time to yield. Schenck 
appealed to the Governor, and finally Bunting gave up the 
contest. The radical element was now dominant in New Han- 
over. The county gave almost continuously Republican ma- 
jorities until 1900. 


The Wilmington Journal, 1862-1872. 
The Evening Dispatch, 1867-1872. 
The Morning Star, 1866-1870. 

"* Hamilton, Reconstruction in North Carolina, p. 251. 
^"^ Daily Dispatch, April 24, 1868. 

112 Historical Papers 

The Carolina Farmer, 1868-1870. 

Executive Correspondence — MSS. Letter-Books of Gov- 
ernors Vance (1862-1864), Worth, and Holden. 
Census of the United States, 1860-1870. 
Waddell — Some Memories of My Life. 
Reports of the Comptroller of North Carolina. 
Rebellion Records. Series I, Vol. 51. 


Waddell — History of New Hanover County. 
Sprunt — Tales of the Lower Cape Fear. 
Hamilton — Reconstruction in North Carolina.